Keith Law’s list of the Top 50 Free Agents hit the tubes yesterday, and mixed among the Matt Hollidays and John Lackeys and Placido Polancos of the free agent world were two amateur lefthanders that won’t necessarily make an impact in the big leagues next year, but would still be a wise investment for some team(s).
First up is the guy you all know, Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman. He comes in at number five on KLaw’s list:
Chapman is the wild card of the free-agent market, as his track record is largely unknown, he’s barely thrown for clubs since defecting and he’s represented by agents who haven’t handled a free agent of this magnitude before. When Chapman is on, he’ll show No. 1 starter stuff, with a fastball in the mid-90s (and yes, as high as 101 mph) with good tail and a mid-80s slider that will show plus with legitimate tilt, although the latter pitch isn’t consistent. He does have a soft changeup but lacks feel for it and pushes it out of his hand rather than selling it with good arm speed. His command isn’t good, and he’s more thrower than pitcher, with a very loose arm that makes the velocity come out easily. Since defecting, he has worked on his body and scouts who’ve seen him recently say he’s stronger and in better overall shape. He might be a No. 1 starter; he might be an ace closer; he might be a mountain of frustration. Is that worth $60 million? Or the fourth- or fifth-biggest contract of the offseason? Not to me, but he’s worth some eight-figure amount because of the almost limitless upside.
We do know that the Yanks’ brass met with Chapman during Game Six of the ALCS, although we don’t know the nature of the meetings. For what it’s worth, Chapman has met with a bunch of other teams as well, including the Mets and Red Sox.
I’m still not convinced Chapman will get the $50-60M that’s been rumored. He’ll surely get more than the $15.1M deal Stephen Strasburg got because he’s a true free agent, but in the end he’s still just a raw 21-year-old kid that’s not quiet Major League ready. Realistically, there’s not much of a difference between Chapman and what Andrew Brackman was coming out of college. Brackman had the elbow issue, sure, but the scouting report was pretty similar. Of course Chapman’s a lefty, which is a plus.
The second amateur pitcher on KLaw’s list is another Cuban southpaw, 19-year-old Noel Arguelles. He checks in at number ten:
Arguelles defected from the Cuban junior national team with current Red Sox prospect Jose Iglesias in the summer of 2008 and is just now at the point where he’s ready and able to sign with a major league team. Arguelles is 19 and already pitches with a solid-average fastball, although before he defected he had worked as high as 91-94 and will probably return there once he’s throwing on a regular schedule again. His changeup projects better than his curveball, with the change a potentially plus pitch. What everyone notices about Arguelles is his body — loose, lean, athletic, with good projection; his new agents took him underground for a few weeks to get him back into playing shape and the results have definitely impressed. If he was an American high school or junior college player, he’d be a solid first-rounder with a chance to be a top-10 guy and would probably be a $4 million bonus baby. As a free agent, he should easily double that.
Chapman gets all the hype, but Arguelles is no slouch. In fact, if you’re talking bang for the buck, Arguelles at say $8M is probably a better value than Chapman at $20M. There would also be less pressure to get him to big leagues as quickly as possible. Klaw’s scouting report makes him sound a lot like Manny Banuelos, though he looked to be a little taller with more room to fill out than the 5′-10″, 160 lb Banuelos. I doubt he’s as polished as Banuelos though, few kids that age are.
While the amateur draft gets most of the attention, the Yanks have done a tremendous job bringing in lesser known, but still high caliber international free agents on reasonable contracts. For some reason, Cuban defectors cost more than their Dominican or Venezuelan counterparts, even though the skill set and level of polish may be the same. Maybe it has to do with the level of competition faced, which is negligible in most of Latin American, but pretty good in Cuba (although not as good as it had been in years past).
Although my knowledge of both Chapman and Arguelles is elementary at best, it seems like it would be wiser to take the money that could be used to sign Chapman, and instead sign Arguelles plus some other players, maybe even a Major League free agent. Of course, we’re talking about the Yankees here, so they can afford to do both. What do you think?