On Monday, one of the most intriguing trades in recent memory was confirmed. With a legitimate opportunity to win their first World Series title since 1908, the Chicago Cubs solidified their bullpen by acquiring Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees in return for Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford.
While Chapman is a world class closer capable of reaching 105-mph on the radar gun, he is a free agent this winter. Moreover, the guy has recently served a suspension for domestic violence, which adds another layer of complexity to the transaction. On the Yankees end, this at least represents a transition towards something different, if not necessarily a total rebuild, adding further meat to the bones.
With so much to compute, here’s ten major takeaways from a blockbuster deal.
The Cubs are all-in
Since taking control at Wrigley Field, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have accumulated a huge stack of chips. After adding Joe Maddon, enjoying a surprise run to the NLCS last year, and streaking ahead in the National League this season, those chips have been moved into the centre of the table. The Cubs are going all-in for a World Series crown this year.
At best, Chicago is only guaranteed to have Aroldis Chapman for three months. For that pleasure, they sent their number one and five prospects to New York. Throw in Warren, a consistent pitcher with the Yankees, and Crawford, a toolsy minor leaguer who has flown under the radar, and the price is almost stupefying.
It’s the type of move only made by a franchise aiming for one last piece to win a world championship.
This is a huge gamble for Theo & Jed
To be clear, the Cubs aren’t mortgaging their future in pursuit of a World Series title right now. So much young talent has graduated to the Major Leagues that almost any trade of minor league prospects wouldn’t damage the Cubs’ immediate window of contention. Yet, in transitioning focus from the long term to the short with such severity, Epstein and Hoyer have heaped pressure on themselves.
Yes, the Cubs could re-sign Chapman in the winter, but they will have to outbid the Yankees to do so. Aroldis enjoyed his time in the Bronx, and Brian Cashman lavished him with praise. The mighty Steinbrenner dollar may be more dormant than usual, but it still packs a punch when there’s an asset the Yankees want dearly. Therefore, I find it hard to believe the Cubs will have more than forty innings of Aroldis Chapman, which places their efforts in October 2016 under huge scrutiny.
To increase their odds of winning right now, the Cubs gave up many years of cost-controlled service time on some very useful young players. In the process, they ensured that not winning the 2016 World Series would be almost as big a story as if they did.
The Cubs are now truly formidable
If we take a moment to ignore the long term ramifications and set the character issues to one side, this deal makes the 2016 Chicago Cubs an almost flawless baseball team. Sure, they could use one more elite starting pitcher, but who couldn’t? With this move, Epstein and Hoyer added one of the most dominant relievers in baseball history; the guy they believe will lock down the first Cubs championship since Theodore Roosevelt occupied the White House.
Right now, the Cubs are undoubtedly the best team in baseball. At 59-39, they have the best record, and Fangraphs gives them a 98.6% chance of reaching the postseason. Therefore, this entire trade was about winning the World Series, and a fearsome bullpen helps accomplish that, as the Kansas City Royals illustrated last year.
In baseball, very little can be accurately predicted, and that is especially true in the postseason. The Cubs cannot be considered world champions in everything but name, but they arguably have a better chance of winning it all than any other team in baseball.
Brian Cashman did great
It has been popular to bash Brian Cashman in recent weeks, months and years. I’ve been guilty of it, too. The Yankees have slowly receded into a dormant state of melancholy, with many questionable player personnel moves marking the journey. However, upon further inspection, the work of Cashman actually stands up pretty well, and he occasionally shows the touch of a genius that makes his supreme reputation within the industry more understandable.
Cashman has proved himself as a fine evaluator of talent and one of the best traders in baseball. He got Didi Gregorius for Shane Greene. He kept the Yankees in contention during Derek Jeter’s final year with a slew of underrated deals. He rarely loses a trade, in actual fact.
Of course, Cashman makes mistakes, but it’s worth looking at the reasons for those situations. The signing of Stephen Drew, for instance, came about after ownership refused to extend Robinson Cano. Dumping half a billion dollars on Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and others was also a reaction to that move, largely mandated by Hal Steinbrenner. Going back even further, agreeing to keep Alex Rodriguez after he opted out in 2007 was also done over Cashman’s head.
In short, many of the decisions that doomed the Yankees originated in the ownership suite rather than the front office. Brian Cashman isn’t without blame, but when you’re so routinely tasked with fighting fires, some things are going to be left unprotected. Some mistakes will be made. On the whole, he probably deserves greater autonomy over Yankee affairs, and I would contend that the Bombers would be a better franchise for it.
In this specific trade, one can only marvel at what Cashman was able to get in return for three months of a reliever with such contentious character flaws. I mean, seriously? Two top prospects…and Adam Warren, who the Yankees love…and a potential lottery ticket athlete in Crawford? Wow.
Extrapolating the two trades between New York and Chicago this season, the Yankees essentially gave up Brendan Ryan and three months of Aroldis Chapman for Starlin Castro, Torres, Warren, McKinney and Crawford.
All you can do is applaud Cashman’s dexterity there.
Domestic violence is a very delicate issue
I’m no expert on domestic violence. I don’t pretend to be, either. But it’s certainly detestable and has no place in our society. Accordingly, when the very people we idolise transgress in that murky world, it messes not only with our instincts as people, but also as fans.
Trying to root for a team that places a domestic abuser in a prominent role is extremely tough, and it’s a subject that has occupied minds far mightier than mine. All I know at this point is that people deserve second chances in some instances, and that the Cubs must navigate a public relations minefield with this issue.
Baseball, like many other sports, obviously has a problem with domestic violence, and some people consider it particularly egregious that the Yankees have capitalised so much on a man alleged of doing some disgraceful things. The league has introduced a stronger domestic violence policy, but that doesn’t minimise the crime itself. This will require a larger debate in a different setting, but it cannot be brushed under the carpet.
Andrew Miller is worth more than some small countries
If this is the return for Aroldis Chapman, I struggle see many teams matching the going rate for Andrew Miller, who has been even better than his former teammate and who is under a team-friendly contract for two more years after this.
With the market parameters now established, a contender will likely have to give three of their top fifteen prospects to acquire Miller. For Texas, that’s probably Joey Gallo, Jurickson Profar and more. For San Francisco, negotiations begin with Tyler Beede. Washington? It’ll cost you Lucas Giolito or Trea Turner at a minimum.
That’s not me speculating. That’s what the market dictates.
At this point, the Yankees should really look to move Miller, especially if Cashman can pull off a deal to match his one for Chapman. Miller is a great teammate and the most effective reliever in baseball right now. But is he the guy who will record the final out of the next Yankee world championship? That’s debatable. By trading him, too, Cashman could totally revamp the Yankees’ future within a week. Prospects can flame out, but he would be closer to building the foundations for another dynasty.
The Yankees’ farm is in great shape
After the Chapman trade, the Yankees now have five of the Top 100 prospects in baseball, as judged by MLB.com: Torres (24), Jorge Mateo (26), Aaron Judge (27), Gary Sanchez (50), McKinney (75).
That doesn’t even include Greg Bird, Rob Refsnyder and Luis Severino, who have made contributions at the Major League level. The system also has improving depth, with a few different layers of talent.
In short, the Yankees have more young talent than at any point since the Core Four graduated to the Bronx. Before the season, Baseball America ranked the Yankees’ system seventeenth, but I thought that was a little harsh. Now, with the latest infusion of talent, Cashman is surely the owner of a top ten farm, with potential for even more growth should Miller and other veterans be traded.
No white flag above the Stadium just yet
Although it should, the trade of Aroldis Chapman doesn’t spell the end of Yankee contention in 2016. Steinbrenner is still reticent to enter a full rebuild, fearing drops in attendance and YES Network ratings. Therefore, the Yankees may not deal any more of their veterans, even if that makes little logical sense.
Warren can slot into a bullpen that still has Miller and Dellin Betances, allowing the Yankees to yearn for rebounds from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira en route to an unlikely postseason berth. Nevertheless, if I owned the Yankees, Brian Cashman would have full power to tear down the Major League club and further solidify an exciting farm system for 2017 and beyond.
In 2011, San Francisco gave Zack Wheeler to the Mets for Carlos Beltran at the deadline. Wheeler was the Giants’ top prospect, and Beltran was a great addition. Yet, right now, in 2016, the asking price should arguably be higher. Beltran is older, but he has more home runs and a higher batting average than he did when the Mets traded him midway through 2011. Similarly, his reputation as a strong postseason performer is further enhanced. Therefore, the Yankees should be looking to net another top-five prospect from a contending team for Beltran, if at all possible.
Elsewhere, Cashman could also listen to offers for Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova in a thin starting pitcher market. Meanwhile, Brett Gardner may be an intriguing piece for teams seeking outfield help, and the price for Betances would likely fall somewhere between that for Chapman and Miller.
Even now, delusions of immediate contention are prevalent in some offices at Yankee Stadium. But even if the Yanks are theoretically still in the playoff race, they must seize this rare opportunity to make themselves far better in the future.
The Reds may be doomed
The Aroldis Chapman trade made the Cubs look hungry, the Yankees look clever and the Cincinnati Reds look doomed.
Walt Jocketty traded Chapman to the Yankees for four lukewarm prospects in December, botching yet another opportunity to create a bright future in Cincinnati. Just as they were robbed in the Todd Frazier deal, the Reds moved Chapman when they had the least leverage imaginable. Now, seven months later, the Yankees have acquired four far better players than they gave up to get Chapman, further highlighting the Reds’ ineptitude.
Other teams are lapping Cincinnati at this point, and a change in philosophy is sorely needed.