Monday, September 21, 2009

Pitching From The Pyrenees

This one isn't Yankee-related just yet, but it's pretty interesting nonetheless.

Cuban prospect Aroldis Champan has taken one step along the road to becoming a Major Leaguer. The 21 year old flame-throwing lefty defected from the Cuban National Team in the Netherlands back on July 1st and has now established residency in the principality of Andorra:
“Andorra is a beautiful country and has provided an ideal setting for me to prepare myself for professional baseball without distractions,” Chapman said in a statement. “I look forward to becoming a proud advocate for my adopted country.”
As you can see in the picture to the right, Andorra is a beautiful country, indeed. Nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, it's fairly temperate but due to it's higher elevation, it receives more snow and is slightly chillier than the countries it borders. At 181 square miles, it's roughly the size of seven CC Sabathia jerseys sewn together.

The country was formed in 1278, and is the last remaining sovereignty created by King Charlemagne of France to keep the Islamic Moors of Spain from entering his country. With such beauty and history, how could Chapman not move there?

Oh, minor detail: Andorra has no income tax, so the massive signing bonus he figures to get from an MLB team will be his to keep.

The bonus has been universally assumed to be higher than $32M given to Jose Contreras by the Yanks. It would seem to be a virtual lock because that was 7 years ago, Chapman is 10 years younger than Contreras was, and he's a left hander who has been clocked at over 100MPH. Even if he was 26, like some sources have suggested, he still represents significantly more upside than El Titan de Bronze.

Chapman hasn't been especially successful in either Cuban or International play, but his age and skills are obviously quite tantalizing. Keith Law even suggested that the Cuban team was forcing him to pitch mostly fastballs to limit his appeal to MLB clubs. Here is some more analysis from FanGraphs.

Is anyone intrigued by this guy? There is a lot of risk and uncertainty but also a lot of undeniable talent and potential. I think it's safe to say that neither Kei Igawa nor Contreras gave the Yanks anywhere the value they were looking for, but the $6.6M they signed El Duque for is certainly a different story. The problem is Chapman might cost 10 times that much.

The prospect of a young lefty with that kind of heat is captivating, and all 30 teams are said to have some level of interest, but I would be reticent to commit that kind of money to an international signing. Dice-K has been hot and cold for the Red Sox, at times looking like he was a good deal and at others like a total bust. There is a huge chance that Chapman ends up not living up to the contract and a relatively small one that he exceeds the value given. I say let someone else take the risk.

(Sidenote: What is stopping U.S. prospects (i.e. Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper) from taking up residence in a country tax shelter such as Andorra or the Cayman Islands and avoiding the draft as well? I love America as much as the next guy, but for the difference between what the top tier guys get for signing bonuses and what they would get on the open market, I think I could officially reside somewhere else.)


  1. As is typical, I'm late to the game these days. Unfortunately for Chapman (and this post), one has to pay income tax in the place where it is earned. Since Chapman will be earning his money stateside (unless the Yankees have some offshore operation set up), he will be giving his fair share to Uncle Sam.

  2. From the SI article: "Andorra's lack of an income tax means Chapman will save money in his new homeland, Meija said."

    Perhaps a signing bonus is a separate consideration from the salary? Maybe for endorsements in the future? There has to be some reason he chose Andorra instead of, say, Spain or Italy or France.