With a week to go before the trade deadline, the Cubs finally won one of the elite reliever contests. The rumors had them primarily targeting the Yankees for Andrew Miller, but the asking price was purportedly not moving anywhere from Kyle Schwarber, so they ended up with Aroldis Chapman instead. There had been no shortage of suitors for Chapman this season, with the Indians, Rangers, Nationals and Giants all in the running up until the deal was done with the Cubs.
A preliminary note: As before, when we took a look at the deal that brought Chapman to the Yankees in the first place, we’re not discussing his off-the-field issues, just the baseball stuff, insofar as we can. On some level, though, there isn’t avoiding those issues, tough as they may be, as they played so heavily into how this deal looks on paper.
Back to the baseball stuff. Chapman has continued to perform as advertised this season for the Yankees. He has a 2.01 ERA. His fastball has averaged (!!!) 100mph this year. He’s striking out 12.6 batters per 9. He’s walking way less batters than ever before, with 2.30 BB/9 vs. his career number of 4.19 BB/9. He’s staying in the strike zone more than ever before but hitters can’t square him up because he just throws too hard. He’s in the top 10 for qualified relievers in MLB for FIP, K/9, xFIP, SIERA and WPA, to name a handful of stats. So, yeah, there was a reason all those teams were interested in him, even with his baggage.
Of course, having that many suitors is going to drive the price up, but the price the Cubs are paying for a rental reliever, even if he’s one of the best out there, is pretty steep. The big get here for the Yankees is shortstop Gleyber Torres, a consensus top-50 prospect, who ranked 24th on MLB.com’s midseason report and 27th on Baseball America’s. Torres is only 19 and he’s only in A-ball, but he’s now the Yankees No. 1 Prospect. Also included in the deal are RHP Adam Warren (who is heading home after being dealt to the Cubs in the Starlin Castro deal this offseason) and a couple more lottery-ticket-style minor league outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford.
This is not to belittle the impact Chapman can have for the Cubs, at least once the postseason starts. With Chapman presumably taking over the closer role, that will push Héctor Rondon (1.95 ERA, 0.730 WHIP and 11.7 K/9) to a setup role in the 8th and bump Pedro Strop (0.850 WHIP and another round of 11.7 K/9) to a 7th inning role. That’s a pretty scary trio to have closing out games, especially in the postseason with extra time off between games.
Grade for Cubs: B-
It’s not clear that the Cubs are going to wring enough value out of Chapman to make up for what they gave up, at least in terms of the value on paper. That being said, I certainly don’t want to be the team that’s going up against the Cubs in the postseason, so I guess everything about this deal fits into the “Flags Fly Forever” box, both in terms of the PR associated with it and the return they got for the assets they gave up. The Cubs did get better, but it’s certainly not clear that they got that much better to warrant giving up what they did. For this deal to truly work out for the Cubs, the flags will need to actually fly.
Grade for the Yankees: A+
Good luck trying to give the Yankees anything lower than that. They flipped some prospects for Chapman during the offseason, then flipped Chapman for much better prospects. They may have exploited morally questionable market inefficiencies but, from a purely baseball perspective, this whole thing worked out pretty well for them.
(Bonus) Grade for Reds: C-
Ah, the benefit of hindsight. We gave the Reds a B+ before, but that was before we knew what would happen with Chapman and any potential suspension and it was sort of empty praise at that, saying “well at least they traded him…” We also suggested that they might have been wiser to wait regardless, and see if Chapman got some of his trade value back. Well, he did. Sorry, Reds. While the Reds can at least claim the moral high ground, from a baseball perspective, the biggest winners here are the Yankees. Because of course they are.