A Look at the Brilliance of the Cubs Trade for Aroldis Chapman

The Chicago Cubs have officially acquired Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees in a five player trade.

The Cubs sent their top-rated prospect and uber-talented shortstop, Gleyber Torres – 19 (A+ Myrtle Beach – .275/.359/.433), to the Yankees as the centerpiece of the deal. In addition to Torres, the Cubs included RHP Adam Warren – 28 (AAA Iowa, recently demoted) and OF prospects Billy McKinney – 21 (AA Tennessee .252/.355/.322) and Rashad Crawford – 22 (A+ Myrtle Beach .255/.327/.386).

I know what you’re thinking, this is a tremendous amount to pay for a rental player, not to mention a guy like Chapman who was suspended early this year for domestic violence. I have to say, I completely agree, it is a steep price to pay and there are a lot of unknowns coming out of a deal like this. Lots of implications.

What you get with Aroldis Chapman

First, let’s just look at the implication of adding Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs. It instantly and vastly improves the Cubs bullpen and gives them arguably the best closer in the game. That, alone, is extraordinarily positive. It’s hard to say what impact he’ll have on the clubhouse and whether guys on the team will be quick or steady to embrace him but that piece will work itself out and Joe Maddon will ensure that much.

In terms of the domestic abuse incident. That’s obviously unacceptable. There’s no two ways about it. There are going to be a lot of people who’ll never support this trade on that fact alone. That’s fair and I’d never try to dissuade someone from feeling that way. It’s completely warranted. The only position I can take on the incident, as it relates to the trade, is that you have to hope he’s sought professional help and that it won’t ever happen again. I’m comfortable that Theo and Jed carefully vetted that situation. 

To me, the biggest baseball-related impact of getting Chapman is the fact that the Cubs only get him for half a season. If the deal would’ve come with an extension, as was rumored, than I’d feel a lot more comfortable about the deal overall. But that doesn’t mean I’m not happy about it. On the contrary, I think this could be a World Series winning decision by Theo and gang. 

What the Cubs gave up

In the trade, the Cubs gave up three players. None of which is anywhere near the current level of Chapman in terms of major league talent and capability to impact a game at the big league level. That’s where this deal clearly tilts in favor of the Cubs. Of course, you can argue, as many have, that the Cubs gave up a handful of valuable assets that they could’ve used in a different, perhaps more dynamic trade.

At the forefront of the trade is Gleyber Torres. He was the top-rated prospect in the Cubs system, according to Baseball Prospectus, and was in the process of developing nicely in the Cubs’ minor league system. Yes, there was a lot of hope and hype around him, but in the end he was quite a ways from getting to the major league level with the Cubs and if it ever happened it wasn’t likely to be at shortstop, where Addison Russell is firmly entrenched. 

Billy McKinney was another highly rated prospect for the Cubs, coming in at fourth in the preseason Baseball Prospectus rankings. Although after he suffered a fractured knee in August 2015 his productivity has waned. He slashed .285/.346/.420 with 115 total bases over 77 games in 2015 with double A Tennessee. So far in 2016, at Tennessee, he’s hitting .252/.355/.322 with 96 TB over 88 games. A pretty substantial regression. 

Adam Warren was recently sent down to triple A Iowa, presumably to get things straightened out and possibly to get stretched for another spot start for the Cubs. In that vein, Warren offered some big league value as a spot starter but his numbers as a reliever were never quite what the Cubs hoped they would be when they traded Starlin Castro to the Yankees for Warren in the offseason. He had a 6.60 ERA as a reliever while sporting a respectable .250 BABIP, that wasn’t going to work for the Cubs. 

Lastly, there’s Rashad Crawford. He was drafted in the 11th round in 2012 by the Cubs and, while not rating as a top prospect in the Cubs’ system, he was starting to show signs of an improved approach as the plate this season. He has upside but is certainly not a threat to make any big league roster any time soon.

Final thoughts

Picture this, the Cubs are in a must-win, do or die situation in the 2016 playoffs, up by one run going into the ninth in a pivotal game that could either eliminate or advance them in the playoffs, maybe to the World Series or the NLCS. Joe Maddon looks to the bullpen and can now call on the best reliever in the game, the one person in all of baseball in that situation that gives the Cubs the best chance to win, Aroldis Chapman.

Now, picture that same scenario but sans Chapman. It’s for that situation that this trade is a work of brilliance. There is nothing the players the Cubs traded could do in that situation, and really at all in the big leagues, that would help the Cubs win in that moment. And it’s moments like those – microscopic, situational moments – that win or lose championships for teams in major league baseball playoffs. 

That’s what it comes down to. It’s clear that the Cubs have a great team this year, they’ve held the best record in the game for most of the year. So it’s a pretty safe assumption to think the Cubs will make the playoffs. If you’re ok with that assumption, as clearly the Cubs management is, then you immediately start making moves that will put you in the best position to win come playoff time. 

This trade takes the Cubs weakest link, their bullpen, and immediately makes it a strength. There aren’t many trades out there that any team can make with such a major impact. For a team that is trending heavily towards making the playoffs, making a decisive move that yields such a vast improvement is sheer brilliance. 

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