Nationals' bid to sign Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman falls short

By Chico Harlan and Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Already flush with young pitching, the Washington Nationals made a push last weekend to upgrade that group with a lefty whose intrigue, like his fastball, has little comparison.

In the end, their push fell short; Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman signed with the Cincinnati Reds instead. As a result, Washington's pursuit of the 22-year-old left little more than disappointment and tantalizing thoughts about what might have been.

The Nationals were the runners-up in the Chapman sweepstakes. The Reds offered Chapman a six-year, $30.25 million deal. The Nationals offered more than $20 million, according to President Stan Kasten.

"We had the second-highest offer on the table," General Manager Mike Rizzo said on Monday. He paused and added, "We thought it was first."

Had Washington landed Chapman, it would have given the club an outlandish treasure trove of young (and well-paid) pitching prospects. The Nationals, of course, already have presumed ace Stephen Strasburg, signed this past summer to a four-year, $15.1 million deal. Chapman, who throws more than 100 mph, has often been described as the left-handed equivalent of Strasburg. During his team's pursuit of Chapman, Rizzo sometimes allowed himself to dream of the scenario: a rotation in 2011 that featured Strasburg, Chapman, John Lannan and Jordan Zimmermann.

"That was part of the thought process," Rizzo said. "Stan and I looked at what we could be running out on the mound in 2011, 2012, and we said, 'Yeah, this is something we need to get involved in.' "

"The romance of having Strasburg from the right side and Chapman from the left was very exciting," Kasten said.

At least a dozen members of Washington's front office, Rizzo included, scouted Chapman. Several of those scouts, including international scouting director Johnny DiPuglia, watched Chapman pitch several times. After Rizzo watched Chapman's Dec. 15 bullpen session in Houston and spoke with the pitcher at a private Dec. 23 workout in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he gladly endorsed the opinion of his baseball operations department. All involved viewed Chapman as a future star. Had the Nationals signed him, he would have been given a shot at the major league rotation in 2010.

"All the accolades and the velocities you've heard about are true," Rizzo said. "We see a huge upsided pitcher."

According to Rizzo, the front office -- not team owners Ted and Mark Lerner -- drew the line on how much Washington was willing to offer. "We went up to a price point I was comfortable with," Rizzo said, "and at the end of the day we fell a bit short."

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