Royals general manager J.J. Picollo was up front about his team’s ability to sign seven-time All-Star relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman to a one-year deal.
“If he was not coming off a tough year we wouldn’t have been in a position to sign him,” Picollo said.
Chapman, the 34-year-old lefty who signed for a reported $3.75 million, posted 153 saves and a 2.94 ERA in seven seasons with the New York Yankees. But he struggled to a 4.46 ERA last season and was left off the team’s postseason roster for missing a workout.
Now, Picollo said, Chapman is seeking to reestablish himself.
“He was looking for an opportunity to rebound,” Picollo said. “They pursued us as much as we pursued them. There was interest on both sides.
“We have a pretty clear understanding what happened at the end of last year. These things happen in sports. He was as disappointed in how the year ended as the Yankees were.”
Champan, who spent his first six seasons with the Reds and helped the Chicago Cubs win the 2016 World Series, won’t necessarily be the Royals’ closer. Scott Barlow has served as the Royals’ primary closer for the past 1 1/2 seasons and recorded 24 saves last year.
“We haven’t assured him anything,” Picollo said. “No promises were made that he would be our closer. We had that conversation with Scott Barlow as well. ... I don’t even want to call it a competition. Scott Barlow is our closer.”
Picollo said the Royals also did their due diligence regarding Chapman’s suspension by Major League Baseball in 2016 for an offseason personal conduct policy violation related to domestic violence allegations.
Chapman wasn’t charged with a crime. He was, however, suspended for the first 30 games of the season.
“Clearly that’s important for us to that background,” Picollo said. “A lot of questions were asked, speaking to the teams that were involved with him, meeting with his now wife Cristina. We felt comfortable with what we uncovered. We were concerned with figuring it out but unconcerned moving forward.”
Picollo said the Royals previously have made background checks of players who never became part of the team.
“We came to the conclusion they didn’t fit our culture,” Picollo said. “That’s not the case with Aroldis.”
Chapman is the fourth relief pitcher to join the Royals this week. On Monday, the Royals announced they had dealt center fielder Michael A. Taylor to the Minnesota Twins for a pair of minor-league pitchers, Evan Sisk and Steven Cruz.
The next day, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi was traded to the Boston Red Sox for reliever Josh Taylor.
Chapman adds to the mix. He’s credited with throwing the fastest pitch in baseball history: 105.8 mph in 2010 while playing for the Reds. His fastball has trended downward over the past few seasons, averaging 97.5 mph last year.
Chapman reportedly had offers from several teams. The Marlins and Padres also expressed interest.
“He’s motivated to finish his career strong over the next four to five years,” Picollo said. “He had opportunities to sign with some clubs that maybe are further along in their timeline than we are.
“But the opportunity on a one-year deal for Aroldis to rebound was best in Kansas City.”