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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Aroldis Chapman Trade

Aroldis Chapman
Photo Credit: Keith Allison
Quick note explaining this post: I wrote most of this while traveling over Christmas.  I wrote most of this the night of the trade, but didn't post it because I wanted to proof it first.  And then I got busy.  And sad about the Reds.  And I forgot about it.  As a result, I just realized that I'd never made this post.  So, while it's hardly topical anymore, I'm posting it now, since I'm sure I'll want to refer to this post in the future.  Sorry for the 3+ month delay!!

Just as with the Josh Hamilton trade of yesteryear, the Reds made a major trade while I was traveling, dealing Best Closer in Baseball(?) Aroldis Chapman to the New York Yankees in exchange for a bullpen arm and three prospects.

Before looking at the trade, I did want to comment briefly on its backdrop: the domestic violence allegations against Aroldis Chapman.  I celebrated MLB's new domestic violence rules when they were implemented last year.  They addressed a long-standing issue in baseball (and other professional sports) in which on-field offenses like PED's are punished far more severely than truly horrific off-field actions, such as rape, domestic abuse, etc.  While Chapman's alleged behavior wasn't quite so bad as that of Alfredo Simon, his actions nevertheless sound awful.  I try to maintain a presumption of innocence when someone is accused of a crime, but one can't ignore the plight of the victims of these crimes either.  While it sucks that the Reds waited so long to trade him when it was clear that he should have been dealt last July, and it sucks that something like this caused him to lose so much trade value, I'm nevertheless happy that he won't be wearing the laundry of my favorite team this spring.

The Reds signed a 22-year old Aroldis Chapman as an amateur free agent in 2010 after he defected from Cuba, surprisingly beating out other teams in their biggest international signing to date.  He was originally slotted to be a starting pitcher, and despite a shaky change-up, his incredible velocity and wicked slider made him seem like a potential ace in the making.  Unfortunately, the opportunity to use his talents out of the bullpen proved too alluring.  While the Reds started the 2012 season planning to plug Chapman into the rotation, the Ryan Madson's elbow injury, along with the Reds' fantastic rotation depth at the time, allowed Dusty Baker (with the agreement of others in the organization, I'm sure) to move him into the bullpen, apparently in accordance with Chapman's wishes.  After a couple of rough performances by Sean Marshall, Chapman quickly took over as team closer and stayed in that role for four seasons.  In that time, he posted video game numbers: 1.90 ERA, 16 k/9:3.8 bb/9, 1.74 FIP.  He's been brilliant in that role, though I still think the Reds most likely made a significant error in not committing to him as a starting pitcher.  But, bygones.

Chapman enters his age-28 season as one of the top closers in baseball, a position he has held longer than anyone not named Craig Kimbrel.  Nevertheless, he is still "just" a closer, and has just one year of team control left before he hits free agency.  That, combined with the possibility that he might miss time due to suspension (edit in March: he's suspended 30 games), and the general taint of acquiring someone who probably beat up his girlfriend, meant that his market was not one that would bring a top-tier prospect back.  Instead, the Reds seemingly went for quantity.  Let's look at who they got in return.

Eric Jagielo, 23-year old LHB 3B

While I'm probably more down on Jose Peraza than is justified, there's a legitimate argument that Jagielo may well be the best position-player prospect the Reds have acquired in the past calendar year, save for the draft.  He is a former 1st-round draftee (2013).  He has struggled with injuries (which mostly seem like freak accidents to me, rather than recurrent problems), has excellent power, has hit at every level he's played thus far, and plays third base.  His walk rate slipped last year at AA, but he still hit for nice power and BABIP'd his way to a good OBP.  He does strike out a bit more than one might like, but it hasn't been spiking as he went up in levels, and he has the power to make up for the strikeouts.

The biggest concern with Jagielo seems to be his defense.  If he can stick at third base and be competent over there, he seems like a nice prospect.  If, on the other hand, his doubters are right and he is destined for first base (I've read he doesn't even have the athleticism for the outfield), then his bat is going to have to carry him.  Given that the Reds a) have a first baseman forever, and b) targeted him as a near MLB-ready talent, I have to think they think he can stay at third base for a few years.  Otherwise, it doesn't make a lot of sense...

Rookie Davis, 22-year old RHP

Everyone loves Rookie Davis's name, and I'm no exception.  2015 is often described as a breakout campaign for him.  After a rough performance in 2014 (4.93 ERA, although with better peripherals), his strikeout rate spiked in high-A this year while he simultaneously kept his walks and home runs allowed to an absolute minimum.  That strikeout rate slipped back down once he was promoted to AA, but he still held his own with a solid K-BB rate.  Davis reportedly throws pretty hard, but may struggle at higher levels unless he can develop a change-up.  He'll pitch as a 23-year old in AA next season.  If he can get his secondary pitches in order, he'll be poised to make a run at the Reds' rotation in 2017.  If not, it sounds to me like he is at least likely to be a good bullpen arm.

Caleb Cotham, 27-year old RHP

Caleb took a nice step forward last season after struggling to find himself in prior seasons, posting outstanding K-BB rates for the first time since 2011.  He ascended all the way from AA to the Yankees bullpen by the end of the season, and looked excellent at each stop.  He projects to be a solid middle relief arm next season, and seems likely to me to claim a spot in the Reds' pen this spring.  He's not an Aroldis Chapman, but he looks competent...and frankly, the Reds' bullpen looks to me like it will need all the help it can get.

Tony Renda, 24-year old 2B

Renda was a 2nd-round draft pick in 2012, so he has some pedigree.  Nevertheless, scouts don't seem particularly impressed with him, and he seems universally considered a generic throw-in.  He seems to make good contact, have some speed, and zero power, not so unlike another more ballyhooed acquisition from earlier this offseason.  He had a nice year in 2014, but didn't quite follow that up last year in AA.  If I were the Reds, I'd be looking at him in AAA this year.  If he can be versatile enough to play a little bit on the other side of the diamond, he might be able to fit in as a utility infielder.  I'm not sure if his fielding is quite good enough for that role, however, given his low power potential.


So, it's not an overwhelming collection of talent...but I still like this deal better than the Todd Frazier trade.  With Frazier, you were dealing two years of a 3-4 WAR player, and the headlining prospect was pretty underwhelming (high contact, low-OBP, high speed, no power, just ok fielding).  In this case, the two headlining players coming over might not be top-tier prospects, but there's a path by which each could become important an contributer to the Reds over the next few years.  Given that the Reds were dealing just a single year of Chapman, and that year one potentially rocked by domestic violence allegations and suspensions, I think they did a lot better in this trade.  If you accept that the Reds absolutely had to trade Chapman at that moment (can his value get any lower?), I give the trade a solid B, while I'd give the Frazier deal a D.

It's been a discouraging offseason.  I still think the Reds got a better haul in the Alfredo Simon trade last winter than they did in either of their big deals this offseason, which is unreal.  Still, there's nothing for it but to look ahead to next season.  I'm hoping that, with the payroll the Reds have discarded, they can make some late free agent signings this offseason that can be dealt away in July.  They only have $71.7 million committed to next season, so there should be room to add a few short-term deals to both make the first half more sufferable, and allow for more talent acquisition this summer.  That's what I'd be doing, anyway.  Reds fans don't have a whole lot else to look forward to.

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