When the New York Yankees traded for Cincinnati Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman, it was bigtime sports news. When the news broke earlier this month of Chapman’s involvement in a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend, it cause the Dodgers to back out of trade talks they had been engaged in with the Reds. The Red Sox had been exploring a trade for Chapman in November before the story broke, but purportedly backed out when a background check revealed that Chapman was being investigated.
We watch sports for entertainment, to cheer for our favorite teams and to forget about the real world as we lose ourselves in the game and hope against hope for a successful onside kick or a walk-off homerun. Needless to say, we don’t like it when real life invades sports, as it almost certainly means that something awful has happened. We’re not here to discuss the ethics involved, whether it was “right” to trade for Chapman, but it’s also impossible to discuss the Chapman trade without discussing the implications that stem from the allegations of domestic violence, which if true are serious and shocking, as those implications weigh heavily on the trade that took place.
Chapman is unquestionably one of the best relief arms in the majors today. An All-Star over the past four consecutive seasons, he sports a 1.90 ERA and has struck out over 16 batters per nine innings over that time frame. He is the hardest throwing pitcher in baseball, having been clocked in at 105.1 mph. His talent, however, was being wasted on the Reds, as a team who comes two games shy of losing 100 has little need for an elite closer, and Cincinnati figures to be even worse next year, as they are clearly all in on their rebuild. Chapman will possibly be a free agent after 2016 (we’ll come back to the “possibly” momentarily), so the Reds needed to get some return for him and get some salary relief as well.
What the Reds traded for, however, were four minor leaguers, two right-handers in Caleb Cotham and Rookie Davis and two infielders in Eric Jagielo and Tony Renda. The Yankees had been asking after Chapman before the trade deadline this season and, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the asking price at that time was some combination of New York’s top prospects, possibly their number one prospect, outfielder Aaron Judge, or pitcher Luis Severino, who the Yankees are hoping will be a long term starter for them next year after posting a 2.89 ERA over 62 innings after getting called up in August. The return that the Reds got was quite a bit lower than that, and appears to be quite a bit lower than the normal market rate for proven, elite closers, especially in light of what changed hands after Boston traded for Craig Kimbrel this offseason.
Now, the Yankees have Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to close out games. That’s the three leaders in strikeouts per nine last season, all on the same team. Assuming things stay the way they are, the Yankees’ bullpen is going to be ridiculous, as the three were basically the equivalent of a Cy Young starter in 2015. Plus, with Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi all missing time last season due to injuries and with CC Sabathia being another year older and coming out of addressing personal issues, the addition of Chapman gives Joe Girardi the luxury of worrying less about how deep the starters go in games and can lighten their collective workload.
The Yankees certainly wouldn’t have been able to get a quality starter for the package they gave up to get Chapman, and now they don’t have to. Rather, they can emulate the Royals’ path to success last year and just sit tight knowing that they’re in good shape as long as they can hold out until the 7th inning. Alternatively, they could continue testing the market for Miller, who is under team control through 2018, as they were before the Chapman trade, and see if they could get something back in terms of starting pitching, although that seems unlikely.
The big question for the Yankees is what is going to happen with any punishment that Chapman faces under MLB’s newly instituted domestic violence policy. Chapman, along with Yasiel Puig and Jose Reyes, will be the first parties investigated, and we do not really know what to expect, as any punishment will be determined by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and there is no minimum or maximum period of suspension. If the suspension is such that it causes Chapman to miss more than 46 days of the regular season next year, he will no longer reach free agency at the end of the 2016 season.
Grade for Reds: B-
Unfortunately for the Reds, they lost a lot of bargaining power due to Chapman’s off-the-field behavior. The questions surrounding Chapman’s potential suspension combined with a desire from teams to not have the unwanted attention of employing Chapman caused his stock to drop. The Reds have committed to rebuilding, so there’s not really much they could do. Another move might have been to wait for things to blow over a little bit and see if there might have been a contending team in need of a proven closer come next trade deadline, but with the uncertainty regarding a potential suspension and the length, it’s hard to fault them for taking whatever they could get and parting ways with Chapman.
Grade for Yankees: A
As stated above, this is about grading the Yankees’ trade from purely a baseball perspective, rather than from a moral perspective. The trade certainly doesn’t help Yankees dispel their lingering Evil Empire image. I, for one, feel for Yankees fans (which is not something that you necessarily hear people say too often) and the fact that some will have to grapple with cheering for Chapman whenever he comes in to pitch.
But since we’re just talking about what happens on the field, Chapman does make the Yankees better and potentially gives them one of the best bullpens in recent baseball history. They were able to exploit a market inefficiency and make a trade for one of the best relievers in the game without giving up any of their favorite prospects. As long as you’re keeping everything on the field, the Yankees made out very well here.