Saturday, November 21, 2009
Cuban defector Chapman fires agent
By Jorge Arangure Jr. ESPN.com
Cuban pitching phenom Aroldis Chapman has fired the representative who helped him gain free agency, his former agency confirmed Saturday.
Edwin Mejia, of Athletes Premier International, had represented Chapman soon after he defected from the Cuban national team in July.
Mejia had started negotiations with several major league teams, but Chapman switched to veteran agents Randy and Alan Hendricks, Randy confirmed to ESPN The Magazine on Saturday.
Aroldis Chapman, playing in February for the Cuban national team, had been taken for a round of interviews with agent Edwin Mejia just last week.
The brothers represent such stars as Kendry Morales and Andy Pettitte.
It's unclear when Chapman made the switch, first reported by the Florida Spanish newspaper El Nuevo Herald on Friday.
"Athletes Premier International is greatly surprised and deeply disappointed that Aroldis Chapman has decided to change agents," the agency said in a statement. "The agency has put forth a lot of time and effort towards helping him achieve his goal of becoming a major league pitcher and he gave us no indication that he was unhappy with our advice or the way he was treated. We will have more to say about this matter at a later date, but in the meantime we wish Aroldis luck in his future endeavors."
Rodney Fernandez, a Miami-based agent born in Cuba who works for the Hendricks brothers, told ESPN The Magazine in a phone interview that Chapman contacted him several days ago.
"I don't know how he got my number," Fernandez said. "It's not like I'm famous or something. We followed every legal step. Maybe it's because I'm Cuban is why he contacted me. I didn't do anything specifically but just answered his call. He simply asked me for help and we are providing it."
The timing of Chapman's decision is curious considering he and Mejia were linked as recently as this week. When asked by ESPN The Magazine on Monday what Chapman's time frame was for making a decision on signing, Mejia replied in an e-mail, "We hope to have him preparing for spring training with his new club as soon as it's possible."
Also last week, Mejia took Chapman on a round of interviews with Sports Illustrated, The Associated Press and ESPN Deportes.
Chapman's original decision to be represented by Mejia caught many by surprise at the time because Mejia was a relative unknown who had never previously represented a major league player. But the link was a junior college player from Cuba whom Mejia advised and who had been a childhood friend of Chapman's.
Chapman and Mejia linked up in Rotterdam, Netherlands, soon after Chapman had defected there during a tournament. Mejia and Chapman then drove from the Netherlands to Barcelona, where Chapman lived and trained for several weeks.
While in Barcelona, Chapman and Mejia gave an exclusive interview to ESPN in late July, when Mejia acknowledged the possibility that Chapman might one day choose a more high-profile agent.
"Well, he has that right," Mejia said then. "He knows that. We told him that. I mean he can, he can change. If we put his interest first and if we do everything possible to keep him protected, well-served and happy, that's all we can do. Legally you can't force him to stay with me or where any agent can't force a player, you just can't, it's illegal. I expect him to be with Athletes Premier for a long time."
Soon after, Chapman and Mejia moved to Andorra, a small country on the border of France and Spain, where Chapman established residency in September, a necessary step to becoming a free agent.
Less than a week after establishing residency, Major League Baseball awarded the Cuban free-agency status. In October, Mejia took Chapman to New York to begin the process of negotiations with several teams, including the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets. Chapman and Mejia went to a playoff game at Yankee Stadium together and visited with Boston officials at Fenway Park.
It was expected that Chapman soon would begin receiving offers.
During their time in Barcelona, Mejia said several agents had called and contacted Chapman in order to lure him as a client. But Chapman, in the interview with ESPN, insisted he was happy with Mejia.
"Well, I did not know about him," Chapman said in July. "Since he came recommended from a friend, who was almost like a brother to me, I trusted him and I made up my mind. [Mejia] has taught me a great deal about life, from a personal and athletic standpoint. And right now I feel very happy, very grateful for the trust we have in each other. My family is far away over in Cuba, so right now he is my family and we have very good communication. We get along very well."
Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter at twitter.com/jorgearangure.