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With the signing of Aroldis Chapman, the Pirates now have a strong bullpen

If you had to pick one of the most hated opposing players in Pittsburgh sports in the mid-2010s, Aroldis Chapman, the Reds flame-throwing closer, was at the top of the list.

The Pirates came of age in 2013, and the Reds were already in the throes of trying to maximize their small-market championship window. The two National League Central rivals battled week in and week out for divisional supremacy (at least to see who would finish second to the Cardinals, anyway).

Chapman, who was notorious for pitching high and in with his 100-plus mph fastball, certainly loved to live in that neighborhood when facing Bucco batters, particularly Andrew McCutchen, like Chapman, a perennial All-Star in those days and the 2013 NL MVP. Chapman didn’t just like to come high and in to Cutch, he liked to plunk Cutch with that 100-plus mph fastball of his.

Anyway, to quote Michael Scott, “Well, well, well, how the turntables.”

It was reported on Monday that the Pirates and Chapman had agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million deal for the 2024 campaign.

Of all the commodities you wanted the Pirates to spend $10.5 million on in 2024, a relief pitcher had to be at the bottom of the list. After all, Pittsburgh currently employs one of baseball’s premier closers; I’m talking about David Bednar, a Pittsburgh-area native and two-time All-Star who tied for the National League in saves a season ago with 39.

As for Chapman, he seemed to be on the verge of losing his baseball career last season before signing a $3.75 million deal with the Royals. After recording 146 saves in six seasons with Cincinnati, Chapman was traded to the Yankees prior to the 2016 campaign. After being suspended 30 games for off-the-field violations, Chapman saved 20 games in New York before being traded to the Cubs in July of that year. Chapman pitched 26.2 innings in Chicago and saved 16 games down the stretch. He proved to be a valuable asset for a Cubs team that won its first World Series in 108 years.

Chapman joined the Yankees again after signing a five-year deal before the 2017 season. All-in-all, Chapman saved 153 games with New York and was named an All-Star three times.

However, Chapman fell out of favor in New York when he skipped a mandatory postseason workout prior to the 2022 ALDS and was left off the playoff roster.

Chapman made 31 appearances for the Royals in 2023 and compiled a 2.45 ERA before being traded to the Rangers where he contributed to their first World Series title.

Overall, Chapman pitched 58.1 innings in 2023, had a 3.09 ERA, struck out 103 batters and recorded six saves.

The good thing about Chapman was that he appeared to regain his fastball, as he often approached the 100-mph range in 2023.

Obviously, Chapman, who will turn 36 next month, isn’t coming to Pittsburgh to be the closer, but he’s going to make one helluva setup man if he truly has regained his flame-throwing ways.

In addition to Bednar and Chapman, Pittsburgh’s bullpen will also include Collin Holderman, who struck out 58 batters in 58 innings in 2023 and had a 3.86 ERA.

Maybe the signing of Chapman is more luxury than anything else, but at least the Pirates now have a clear strength on their roster.

One of the hallmarks of Pittsburgh’s playoff teams from the mid-’10s was a strong bullpen, one that was nicknamed the Shark Tank. The strategy for the Buccos in those days was to have a lead going into the seventh inning. This proved to be a recipe for success, more often than not.

The Pirates made huge strides a year ago, winning 14 more games than they did in 2022.

They have the look of a team that can once again provide the City of Pittsburgh with some magical baseball seasons. The starting pitchers and the hitters will have to do most of the heavy lifting, but if they prove to be capable of it in 2024, the Pirates just might have a bullpen that will truly make a difference in the end.

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