The Boston Red Sox, who maintained radio silence before signing free-agent pitcher John Lackey and were almost as circumspect in their pursuit of free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre before signing him, are conducting another stealth operation, this time in their attempts to sign Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman.
While reports have pegged the Los Angeles Angels and Toronto Blue Jays as favorites to sign the 22-year-old pitcher, the Red Sox remain very much in the picture, with one major-league executive predicting that either the Sox or Yankees will sign him. There have been reports that the Yankees are out, but it would seem improbable that they would not remain involved as long as the Red Sox were in the bidding.
"This one is for the big-money teams,'' the executive said.
Two other major-league sources confirmed that the Sox are still engaged with Randy and Alan Hendricks, Chapman's agents, after making an opening offer, sources told ESPN.com, in excess of $15 million.
An Angels team source told ESPNLosAngeles.com that things were looking good in the negotiations between the Angels and Chapman's agents.
The Florida Marlins also are heavily involved in negotiations for Chapman, hoping the allure of south Florida's large Cuban-American fan base will affect his decision. Chapman is currently living in Weston, Fla., a short drive from Dolphins Stadium, where the Marlins play. The Miami Herald reports that Marlins officials are privately conceding defeat, but owner Jeffrey Loria is known to have keen interest in signing him, and unless the price for Chapman tops $20 million, the Marlins will be in the running, according to one big-league source.
The Angels, according to the source, are the team that may have the best shot of signing Chapman, who is very good friends with Kendry Morales, the Angels' first-baseman who like Chapman defected from the island nation.
"The Angels are a great team, they have money, and he has a good friend on the team who probably is telling him, 'You can live with me, no problem,' '' the source said. "I think comfort will be a big thing for him.''
Where does the bidding stand now? "That's the thing, you really don't know,'' a source told ESPNBoston.com. "It's like shooting in the air. But the thing you look at, is there another player in the [June] draft that compares to him? I'd have to say no. [Stephen] Strasburg last year, and David Price [in 2007], maybe, but no one this year. And 30 teams don't get to bid on the No. 1 draft choice.''
Chapman attended a Yankees playoff game in New York and also visited Red Sox officials in Fenway Park while he was still represented by his previous agent, Edwin Mejia. Last month, Chapman held a workout in Houston attended by more than a dozen teams, including the Red Sox, who have scouted him extensively in international play.
There are reports that Chapman could make a decision in the next few days. Chapman was a sensation pitching for the Cuban national team in last spring's World Baseball Classic, with a fastball that topped 100 mph, but some officials have expressed concerns about his control.
"He's the real deal,'' one scout said Thursday. "He's a real good athlete. When he was pitching for Cuba, it was almost like he was a reliever when he was starting, told to throw as hard as he could for as long as he could.
"He's not ready for the big leagues yet, but he has a fabulous arm. His slider is going to be a plus pitch, and though he has no feel yet for the changeup, but his arm action is good and that could come with time.''
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.