Still Bucs' closer, Bednar 'pumped' by Chapman addition

February 20th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- 's resume includes seven All-Star selections, a Mariano Rivera American Leauge Reliever of the Year Award, an All-MLB Team selection and a pair of World Series rings.

So when the Pirates were set to finalize the signing of Chapman late last month, manager Derek Shelton picked up the phone to call , Pittsburgh’s two-time All-Star closer who is building an impressive resume of his own.

“We were very clear with Chappy when we signed him what we thought his role would be,” Shelton said. “Out of respect to David, I just called him and said, ‘Hey, you're still the closer. You'll be the closer. We're trying to build the deepest bullpen possible.’”

For some relievers in Bednar’s situation, the addition of Chapman might have been unsettling. That wasn’t the case for the 29-year-old, who viewed his team’s new acquisition as a positive development.

“I was pumped,” Bednar said. “His experience speaks for itself. He’s been one of the best relievers in baseball for a long time, which is really impressive. He’s been in the playoffs multiple times, so I’m going to pick his brain on how he handles those situations, how he goes against certain hitters. He’s been doing it for a long time, so his advice is very valuable.”

Bednar and the Pirates are hoping to play into October, something the club hasn’t done since 2015. Their 76 wins last year were the club’s most since 2018, a 14-game improvement from the 2022 campaign.

“That's the expectation,” Bednar said. “Even just in the early days of this camp, I think everybody has a whole lot of confidence and is really looking forward to the season. There's definitely a buzz, so we're excited.”

If things don’t go Pittsburgh's way, of course, Bednar’s name will surely surface in trade rumors this summer, something he dealt with leading up to last year’s Trade Deadline.

Bednar, a Pittsburgh native who was part of the January 2021 trade that sent Joe Musgrove to the Padres, knows the reality of his situation as an arbitration-eligible player with a small-market team, but he’s not thinking about what might happen down the road. If he has anything to do with it, the Pirates will in a position to add this summer, not subtract.

“Something I learned pretty quickly after getting to the big leagues is just to control what you can control and block out the rest of the noise,” Bednar said. “That mindset has helped me tremendously, because it's so easy to get caught up in all the little stuff and what else is going on. As long as my focus in the right place and I can go out there and get outs, I’ll be in a good spot.”

Last month, Bednar agreed to a $4.51 million salary for 2024, avoiding arbitration in his first year of eligibility. The Pirates and Bednar’s agents had some broad conversations regarding a possible extension during those talks, and although he won’t be eligible for free agency until the end of the 2026 season, sources said both sides are interested in pursuing such a deal.

“That’s up to them,” Bednar said with a grin.

For now, Bednar is focused on building on his past two seasons, when he saved 58 games while posting a 2.27 ERA in 111 appearances.

“There’s always something you can work on,” Bednar said. “It’s about continuously learning from previous experiences -- what went well, what went bad -- then continuing to grow on that and try and minimize the bad and optimize the good. As the year goes on, it's just about being consistent and being available every day, helping us secure as many wins as I can.”

Shelton believes Chapman’s presence in the bullpen with Bednar will be a positive for his closer, who hopes to represent the Pirates in the All-Star Game for a third straight season.

“It’s such a fragile position because of the fact that there's a lot of focus on you,” Shelton said. “Regardless of what happened in the first eight innings, people will look at what happens in the ninth if it doesn't go right. The guys that we've seen that have been the best and sustained that, they handled that adversity. They're able to flush it. Unless you've been in that situation, you don't really understand it.

"The fact that David has someone to be able to bounce ideas and bounce thoughts off of is going to be something that's really going to help us moving forward.”