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July 26, 2016

Transaction Analysis

Aroldis Chapman Takes The 105 To Wrigley

by Christopher Crawford, Mike Gianella, Rian Watt, Adam McInturff and Nicolas Stellini


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Acquired RHP Adam Warren, SS-R Gleyber Torres, OF-L Billy McKinney, and OF-L Rashad Crawford from Chicago Cubs in exchange for LHP Aroldis Chapman. [7/25]

No, the sky is not falling. Pigs are not flying, and no, dogs and cats are not (completely) living in harmony. The rivers are not running red with blood, and locusts have not descended upon the Bronx with ravenous abandon. There’s no need to adjust your television set. The Yankees really did sell off a major asset in the middle of trade season. They didn’t buy. They sold.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the selling will continue. Brian Cashman made a point of saying that the trade wasn’t a “white flag,” and that the Yankees could still potentially buy come the deadline. It’s debatable as to whether it was Cashman who said that, or rather Hal Steinbrenner speaking through Cashman. After all, it was Steinbrenner who was unwilling to move major assets as recently as Sunday, and it is Steinbrenner who still thinks that the Yankees can make the playoffs. The results of the ongoing series in Houston will go a long way in deciding what course of action the team takes, as well as the strength of the offers that Cashman receives for his potential trade chips. The Yankees moving to three games over .500 for the first time on Monday night does nothing but muddy the waters in this regard.

Let’s focus on what’s already happened, then. Aroldis Chapman, for all his talent, is not a particularly valuable asset for a club that’s forever drifting on the seas of mediocrity. This is especially true for a club that also employs Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Chapman will test free agency come wintertime, and the Yankees have a history of manufacturing useful relievers out of paper mache and rubber bands. Given what the Cubs offered for him, it would have been madness to turn it down. After all, Chapman is much more valuable to the Cubs, who are about to enter the playoffs, and will need all of the lockdown innings that they can get their hands on. Chapman is certainly someone who can provide them.

One of those aforementioned magical paper-mache-and-rubber-bands relievers is Adam Warren, who initially went to the Cubs in the Starlin Castro trade and returned home in this deal. Warren, during his time with the Yankees, proved to be a very useful swingman who could pitch both in short stints and out of the rotation. A ghastly 5.74 DRA in Chicago saw him demoted to Triple-A at a few different points this year, but past success in New York made him a tantalizing target. Warren will immediately join the big-league roster and will likely pitch out of the bullpen under the watchful gaze of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who helped mold him into an effective arm. Should the Yankees move a starter (Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi have all come up in trade rumors), Warren could easily slide into the rotation.

The prospects involved in the deal will be covered in depth below by the wise and venerable prospect team, but it’s very obvious that the Yankees got a lot more for Chapman here than they gave up to Cincinnati (Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, Tony Renda, and Caleb Cotham) to fetch him. That’s largely because the Yankees took advantage of the fact that Chapman was under investigation for domestic violence. It was Chapman’s act of abuse that allowed the Yankees to flip him for a huge profit from a talent standpoint. That thought is an unsettling one. Chapman was never particularly remorseful about his actions, either.

The Yankees may have lost an 105 mph fastball here, but they also lost a seemingly violent and foul human being. Regardless of the prospects that came in return, that feels like a win. There are no misconceptions that the Yankees clubhouse is now populated by solely virtuous and pure people. But Chapman’s transgressions were palpable and out in the open. Those transgressions are no longer hanging over the Yankees, at least in the present tense. That’s why this trade should not be viewed as a referendum by the Yankees on domestic violence. The same group of people still traded for him in the first place. This trade is a calculated shift towards adding more young talent to the organization. The means by which this was done was to utilize a domestic abuser as a desirable asset. The Yankees did well in this trade. Just remember how they arrived at this point. —Nicolas Stellini

Gleyber Torres struggled to start the season as a 19-year-old in High-A, but he did what you want every impact prospect who's extremely young for a level to do: make adjustments. Since then, he’s gotten better every month, and has really turned it on entering August. Torres carries exciting offensive upside for a shortstop, and it’s encouraging that he’s becoming a quality player in the Carolina League at his age—at a premium position, no less. Torres is built thicker than most shortstops, and range isn't his best defensive attribute. He's got a chance to remain at the position due to good ability to finish plays, and takes some pressure off his range from a strong throwing arm that allows him to play deeper.

Chicago has an absurd amount of young middle infield prospects, and that freed up Torres for trade in a way that another organization might not have been as willing to do. Many clubs make players like Torres—those being teenage shortstops with chances to be above-average hitters at the position—unavailable in trades for a rental reliever, even if it is Aroldis Chapman. That says a lot about Chicago’s flexibility by way of system depth, as well as the type of talent that Torres could be. He’s the prospect that made this trade go, and in the best-case scenario, this could be the day the Yankees acquired their regular shortstop of the future. —Adam McInturff

McKinney was the A's first-round selection in 2013, but he wasn't long for the green and gold, as he was shipped off to Chicago in the blockbuster Addison Russell-Jeff Samardjiza trade. After two impressive seasons in the Cubs system, 2016 has been a relative disaster, as he's hit just .252/.355/.322 with one homer at Double-A Tennessee. Even with the not-so-good numbers, there are still quite a few McKinney fans in the scouting circle, and with good reason. When you see him on the right day, you'll see a guy with an excellent swing that stays in the zone with quick hands, and he'll make hard contact all over the field.

He's shown more patience this year than any other, but that might be part of the problem, as he's not only on pace for a career-high in walks but a career-high in strikeouts as well. Power has never been a big part of his game; his swing is geared towards contact with very little loft, but the Yankees may try to add more loft and incorporate more of the lower half. There is some strength here, so it doesn't have to be 20 power. The other issue with McKinney is defensively. He's a below-average runner with a below-average arm, so he's destined for left field. That puts an enormous amount of pressure on the hit tool to succeed, and quite frankly, we haven't seen much in 2016 that suggests it's up for the challenge. That being said, we're just a year removed from this being one of the best corner outfield prospects in baseball, and considering he's still just 21 years old, there's time for him to reclaim that stature. —Christopher Crawford

Crawford was the Cubs' 11th-rounder in 2012, so he’s now nearly 23. Though he’s yet to reach Double-A, his tool set fits the profile of a longer-range development project anyway. He’s an interesting third piece to this trade, a lesser-known prospect than McKinney or Torres. His inclusion hints that the Yankees have been enthused by the center fielder’s torrid July after an ice-cold May and June, and think Crawford has the athleticism to keep making adjustments and adding polish into his mid-20s.

He’s a physical, tapered, explosive athlete with good size at 6-foot-3. Crawford’s frame and easy actions on both sides of the ball get scouts’ attention immediately. He plays more like a speedster, with a table-setting offensive tool set. Unlikely to ever provide over-the-fence power, he’s still managed to add more thump this year, already besting his 2015 doubles total. The plusses on his scouting report stem from his speed and athleticism. He has the acceleration and glide of a stick-in-center outfield prospect, and he’s posted more than 20 steals each of the last two seasons. He might not be as impactful as top Yankees outfield prospects like Aaron Judge, Dustin Fowler, or recently-drafted Blake Rutherford, but Crawford’s athleticism, projectability, and tools will make him a nice add to the middle of the system. —Adam McInturff

Fantasy Impact

Andrew Miller

The biggest fantasy winner of this trade is Miller: an elite reliever who was in one of the few bullpens in baseball where he wasn’t “good enough” to close. Miller instantly moves to the front of the line for saves in New York and should be good for 10-15 saves the rest of the way. Even if the Yankees decide to completely pare down and trade Miller, it is highly likely that Chapman’s other rumored suitors would use Miller in the ninth as well. —Mike Gianella

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired LHP Aroldis Chapman from New York Yankees in exchange for RHP Adam Warren, SS-R Gleyber Torres, OF-L Billy McKinney, and OF-L Rashad Crawford. [7/25]

“How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic president, so brilliant and so morally lacking?” — Historian James MacGregor Burns, on Richard Nixon

Aroldis Chapman is not Richard Nixon. For one thing, Nixon was a righty. For another, in Chapman’s dossier is a far lesser—if still deeply and painfully suggestive—body of evidence that the man in question is, in MacGregor’s words, “morally lacking.” But both men, it is clear, did or have done much in life worth apologizing for, and both men, it is equally clear, were—and, in Chapman’s case, will very likely remain for some time—unambiguously brilliant performers in their chosen fields. In the jarring collision of those paired truths lies the essential tension of this trade, and also the enormous difficulty of producing an analysis of its merits. The standard rules simply do not apply.

Let’s begin simply, by pretending that they do. Today, the Cubs have Aroldis Chapman, and not Clayton Richard, on their big-league roster. Yesterday, in contrast, they had Clayton Richard, and not Aroldis Chapman, on their big-league roster. You need know little of the particulars of each man’s season to date to understand that this means that the Cubs are a better team today than they were yesterday. You need know only slightly more—for example, that the Cubs can now throw Pedro Strop out for the seventh inning, and Hector Rondon for the eighth—to understand that they're probably also a team better prepared to win postseason games today than they were yesterday, although the degree to which elite relieving contributes to postseason success is a far more contested subject than the superiority of Aroldis Chapman to Clayton Richard.

So, the Cubs are a better team today than they were yesterday. That is a feature of their present state of affairs. But they are also a team today without the services, either at present or in the future, of Adam Warren, Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, and Rashad Crawford. That is also a feature of their present state of affairs. Is that present state a better or worse one for the Cubs than the state they’d have been in had they done nothing at all yesterday? And the fact is, there is no single correct answer to that question. The conclusion you come to will depend almost entirely upon the degree to which you value Cubs wins in the present--especially wins in the postseason--over Cubs wins in the future--especially wins in the regular season--and the degree to which you believe that any of the players sent to the Yankees could have contributed to either category.

It seems clear, based on their actions yesterday, that the Cubs both (a) value wins in the present--especially wins in this year’s postseason--far more highly than they value wins in the future--especially wins in the regular season--and (b) don’t believe they gave up that many wins in the future anyway. Sure, it’s possible that they could have used some of the players they just gave up as the centerpieces of an offseason deal intended to return young pitching. But the Cubs’ actions today suggest strongly that they felt they would get more net present value by trading those players now, for Chapman. Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe they’re right. I don’t know. I suspect, given the massive information asymmetries at play, that they’re right, or at least as right as they can be given the information available to them and us at the moment.

But it doesn’t really matter what I suspect. It matters what the Cubs did, and what they did is go for it. Their biggest weakness was their bullpen, and they went out and got the best reliever in baseball. The Chicago Cubs are meaningfully more likely to win the World Series in 2016 than they were 24 hours ago, and it is not overwhelmingly and incontrovertibly clear that they are any less likely to win it in future, either. On its baseball terms alone, that set of facts makes this trade, in my book, a clear victory for the Cubs.

But this trade cannot and should not be evaluated on baseball terms alone. We are all humans first, and Aroldis Chapman is a human who has—whatever else you believe about him—admitted to firing eight shots from a handgun, inside his home, during the course of an argument with his girlfriend, Cristina Barnea. He has, moreover, expressed regret that he did not “exercise better judgment that evening," strongly suggesting that his actions—even if he never hit or choked anybody, and even if the shots were not aimed directly at Barnea—could have and certainly have been interpreted in a way that caused pain and hurt to his partner. On that basis, and on the basis of our understanding that not all violence is physical, and that even implied violence is clearly abuse, Aroldis Chapman has clearly committed, at least once, domestic violence and abuse.*

*I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect, given what we know about the silence often created and sustained by domestic violence, and even given the inherently disputed nature of the facts at hand, that Chapman has committed acts of domestic violence more than once. But I’m not here to make that case, one way or another, or to imply by stating that he has committed at least one act that he has not committed more. It is, to me, unambiguously clear that he has been willfully and inappropriately violent to his partner at least once, and that is enough for my argument to proceed.

Therefore, the Cubs acquired a man who has, at least once, committed domestic abuse. How in the world are we, as humans, meant to react to that? There are a few ways that make sense to me: First, to acknowledge to ourselves and to others, publicly and pervasively, that domestic violence in all its forms is never, ever, acceptable, that it must therefore be called out wherever possible, and that those who commit it must face consequences for their actions, even as they like the rest of us must be permitted a chance at redemption. Second, to recognize that professional sports leagues, in general, and professional sports teams, in particular, are not designed to be moral organizations, even when staffed by generally moral people.

They are organizations designed to make money. Any appearance of morality that a team suggests has always, either explicitly or implicitly, been calibrated in order to make as much money as possible. This is not always a bad thing. Teams and leagues have found lately they can make money, in consequence of the public’s increased affection for their brands, by supporting organizations and causes the public deems worthy—breast cancer awareness, general health and fitness, and racial equality come to mind—and so they support those causes with dollars they might otherwise have spent on new yachts for their owners. The good done by those dollars is not negated by the amoral nature of their assignment to those causes. It is still good done.

But it is not good done for the sake of good, and that means that those same teams who buy pink bats and fund R.B.I. programs sometimes also do things that seem, on the surface, to be rather clearly amoral, like submitting to their young fans for uncritical hero-worship a man they know to have committed domestic violence. Hypocrisy? Maybe, but there’s not much point in saying it. We never should have expected teams to do good for the sake of good in the first place, and will waste our breath in calling them hypocrites. They were never going to do the right thing, all the time, or even try. They were always going to try to make money. That’s what they do.

And there, right in the heart of the problem, lies the solution. Because teams are single-minded, they are also predictable. Move dollars, and actions will follow. Now, most team dollars are generated or lost by wins lost or gained, and so for the most part adding a great player (like Chapman) who adds wins but subtracts character will almost always be a safe financial bet for a big-league club. But teams lose money on the margins, too, and it's in those dollars that loud and persistent speech in opposition to domestic violence, and in opposition to acquiring players who have not yet made clear their full understanding of the consequences of their actions, and their commitment to solving them in themeslves and in others, can make a difference.

I am not foolish enough to think that the Cubs don’t currently employ players who hold beliefs, and have committed actions, that I personally find reprehensible and unworthy of respect. They definitely do, and always will. And I am not young enough to believe that the Cubs must or could always employ only individuals completely free of vice. Such a thing would be impossible. To be human is to be flawed and to be broken, and to expect perfection of each other is therefore to ensure our own disappointment. But I am not yet old enough to believe that we cannot together make the world more whole, and each other less broken.

I am not yet old enough to believe that, by loudly and and persistently saying today what we do and do not believe about domestic violence, Aroldis Chapman, and their coincidence on the Chicago Cubs, we cannot help to ensure that, when next faced with a decision of this type, the Cubs will read the tea leaves differently, balance the books a different way, and ensure that Chapman and players of his type either come to the Cubs in a spirit of radical transparency, honesty, and personal rehabilitation—in which case we should welcome them as fellow human travelers on the road to redemption, knowing that we ourselves have sinned and come to regret it—or not come at all. I believe that we can do that. I believe, moreover, that we should. And I believe that our decision to do so, and its consequences for Cristina Barnea and so many others like her, is far, far more important than who won the trade the Cubs and Yankees completed yesterday afternoon. —Rian Watt

Fantasy Impact

Aroldis Chapman

Chapman is one of the best closers in the game, so his fantasy value was not going to move significantly regardless of where the Yankees traded him. Even after serving a 30-game suspension under MLB’s domestic violence policy, Chapman is still the 11th-best reliever in fantasy according to Baseball Prospectus’ PFM. The move out of the AL East and into the NL Central helps Chapman somewhat based on quality of opponents and ballparks, but his numbers would be elite no matter where he plied his trade. —Mike Gianella

Fantasy Impact

Hector Rondon

Rondon has been a capable closer all season long, but the Cubs didn’t trade four prospects to use Chapman in the eighth inning. In leagues that use holds, Rondon maintains most of his value. Otherwise, he can be dropped in shallow leagues and should be regarded as a back-end middle reliever in all other formats. —Mike Gianella

Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christopher's other articles. You can contact Christopher by clicking here
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here
Rian Watt is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rian's other articles. You can contact Rian by clicking here
Adam McInturff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Adam's other articles. You can contact Adam by clicking here
Nicolas Stellini is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Nicolas's other articles. You can contact Nicolas by clicking here

Related Content:  Chicago Cubs,  New York Yankees

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