Rangers trade for Aroldis Chapman to bolster 'pen

July 1st, 2023

ARLINGTON -- The Texas Rangers opened the Trade Deadline early this year, trading for Royals reliever , the club announced on Friday afternoon. Texas sent lefty and Minor League outfielder Roni Cabrera to Kansas City in return.

Chapman, 35, has gone 4-2 with two saves and a 2.45 ERA (eight earned runs over 29 1/3 innings) in 31 relief appearances for the Royals this season. He has struck out 53 of 122 (43.4%) batters faced, while ranking among top American League relievers in strikeouts (53), OPS against (.483) and batting average against (.158).

“We’re excited to have [Chapman],” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “We think he fits a need in our bullpen in terms of swing-and-miss [ability] and being able to pitch in leverage situations in the back of the bullpen. We’re thrilled to welcome him to the Rangers.”

The 35-year-old posted a 2.25 ERA from 2012-21, before struggling to a 4.46 ERA in ‘22 with the Yankees. He signed a free-agent deal with the Royals this winter. Young said the club had been following Kansas City and Chapman all year, and the Rangers felt like he was back to his previous self.

“I think that what we're seeing is a pitcher who's really back to the way he pitched a couple years ago,” Young said. “The fastball is electric, the slider has been very good. He's got two variations of the fastball, the sinker and the four-seamer and he's just really, really tough to hit, you know? We're excited. We think he fits a need in our bullpen in terms of the swing-and-miss and being able to pitch leverage the back of the bullpen.”

Chapman has converted 317 of 357 (88.8%) save opportunities in his career, the sixth-highest save percentage in MLB history (min. 100 save opp.) behind only Eric Gagne (91.7%), John Smoltz (91.1%), Craig Kimbrel (89.4%), Joe Nathan (89.1%), and Mariano Rivera (89.1%).

Though Young said it is too soon to say Chapman will be the new Rangers closer, he didn’t rule out the possibility, either.

“I’ll let [manager Bruce] Bochy talk more about that, but I think we plan to use [Chapman] similarly to what Kansas City has done," Young said. "It will be sort of matchup-based to start, and we’ll see how it evolves.”

Will Smith has worked as the Rangers' closer for the majority of this season, going 14-of-15 in save opportunities with a 2.73 ERA.

The rest of the Rangers' bullpen has struggled to a 4.65 ERA entering Friday’s matchup with the Astros, which is the 11th worst among MLB bullpens. The only relievers other than Smith with a sub-4.00 ERA are Josh Sborz (2.43), Brock Burke (3.30) and rookie Grant Anderson (3.06).

Now, after acquiring Chapman, the Rangers have a little more firepower coming out of the bullpen.

Despite the obvious struggles, Texas has something to work with in the bullpen alongside Chapman. They're ranked fourth in xwOBA, fifth in WHIP (1.22), sixth in walk rate (7.9%) and sit around league-average K rate (23.1%). The biggest issues come with a 67.2% strand rate, which is the second-worst in baseball and only better than the A's.

“This was just really the opportunity that presented itself at this point,” Young said. “I think a lot of it is just how well the team has played. It was very clear early on in this month that we're going to be buyers and it's a little bit different than the last couple years that I've been on the job, which is fine.

“I think by acting early we get an extra month of Aroldis Chapman, and I think that's a great thing for our team. He's got playoff experience, obviously, an electric arm and he's gonna make our team better. He's gonna make our bullpen better and, you know, hopefully it leads us being in a better position to win games over the next month.”

Young went on to emphasize that the Rangers are not done looking to add arms leading up to the Deadline. The goal continues to be to win a World Series, and they’ll do all in their power to make the club better to do so.

“I wouldn't be doing my job if we weren't doing that,” Young said. “As I said earlier, we're going to look to continue to improve our club any way we can. That may be internally and maybe externally. But we've got a great group of guys who have played extremely well to this point, and we want to continue to do so in the second half of the season.”