All In: A Gutsy Trade for a Maligned Closer

The blockbuster trade between the Cubs and Yankees which landed controversial closer Aroldis Chapman in Chicago in exchange for a hefty load of quality prospects has created quite a stir to say the least.

I won’t get into the details, or offer any opinions on Chapman’s offseason situation which has created the moral and ethical disdain with which he is largely viewed, but rather try and interpret this trade objectively. First of all, this is a gutsy, “go for it” move by the Cubs, and it makes them better in the here and now. An elite, extremely talented reliever like Chapman not only fills a glaring need, it also solidifies the bullpen as a whole by slotting guys down. Furthermore, it prevents Chapman from ending up on another team’s, possibly a playoff competitor’s, roster. Would you rather face a guy like him with a game on the line, or have him pitching for you?

In exchange, the Cubs had to part with their top prospect Gleyber Torres, highly regarded minor league outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford, and big league swingman pitcher Adam Warren. This may sound like a lot to give up for a rental, but here we see one of the main benefits of the Cubs’ efforts to stockpile their farm system with capable, talented players: Trade chips. The Yankees made out extremely well in this deal, getting Warren back who was very effective for them both in starting and relief roles last year, and a slew of young talent which will be ready for the big club in the very near future as they reload. On the Cubs’ end, both Torres and McKinney were more or less blocked on the big league roster for the foreseeable future. That’s not to say they were expendable per se, just that their upward path was a little less clear with the young core in place on the big club. Warren, for his part, simply did not work out as the Cubs had hoped. In short, this is a win-win trade for both teams from a baseball perspective. Even if the Cubs overpaid for Chapman, well, so what? They overpaid for Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist too. But in today’s game with the incredibly high dollar figures attached to player value, it’s less about overpaying and more about fit. To that extent, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have not missed on too many puzzle pieces to this point.

Not all fans are happy with this trade of course, almost exclusively due to the domestic violence accusation Chapman received last winter. Such a situation and the various amounts of circumstantial evidence paints a bleak picture and is counterintuitive to the type of positive character stipulations that the Cubs organization has sought to uphold in recent years. But if Cubs fans who are understandably upset from that perspective can temper their cognitive dissonance and realize that this move made the team better, on the field that is, then all parties should be satisfied. At least to some degree.

This trade is aggressive, it serves a need, and it shows that this is really it – the Cubs are all in and are legitimately going for it right now. If it works, it’s brilliant. If not, it’s bad. But the gamble ensures the rest of the 2016 season should be interesting ’til the living end.

Checking In At the Break

Well, here we are at the end of the All-Star break, with regular season play resuming tomorrow. With this pause in the daily action, let’s take a look at how things stack up now vs. where I predicted them at the end of Spring Training.  Some prognostications were spot on, while others turned out to be polar opposite. You just never know what is going to happen in a given baseball game, much less a whole season.

American League East 

  1. Baltimore: I dropped the ball here. Picked them fifth, but they are in first. Their offense has been as good as expected, and some surprising bullpen work has helped a lot.
  2. Boston: Picked them second, and here they sit. Solid team. Division title still possible.
  3. Toronto: Picked them third, they are in third. See Boston. Tight race here.
  4. New York: Thought they’d be much better. Picked them first, but they had a disastrous start that has been hard to recover from.
  5. Tampa Bay: Picked fourth, they will finish last. Bad start and little consistency.

American League Central (completely opposite of what I predicted! Knew this division would be a crapshoot.)

  1. Cleveland: Picked fifth, they sit in first. Great arms and potent offense.
  2. Detroit: Picked fourth, but this resilient bunch is squarely in the WC Race.
  3. Chicago: Picked third, and that’s where they are. Red hot start through April and May, but very streaky since. Still solidly in WC contention.
  4. Kansas City: Picked second, but injuries have decimated this group. Still, they sit above .500 and are in the WC hunt themselves.
  5. Minnesota: Picked first. What a disaster. Total 180 from 2015.

American League West

  1. Texas: Picked them first and that’s where they are. Very solid club.
  2. Houston: Awful April, bounced back strong since. Picked second.
  3. Seattle: Good start, dangerous team. WC still possible? Picked fourth.
  4. Oakland. Picked fifth, but they’ll finish better. Mediocre overall.
  5. Los Angeles: Colossal trainwreck despite talent. Worse yet, they still have to pay Albert Pujols for five more years, and Josh Hamilton another year to play elsewhere.

National League East

  1. Washington: The Baker Effect has worked and it looks like they’re headed for a division title. Picked second.
  2. New York: Picked first, but some key injuries have hindered them. Still in WC race.
  3. Miami: Picked third, they are in third. Solid team in the WC race and headed for a strong finish.
  4. Philadelphia: Picked fourth. Real good start, improvement across the board but the Phils are still a year or two away from contending.
  5. Atlanta: Picked fifth. They’re bad.

National League Central

  1. Chicago: Picked second. Historical start, but some injuries plus a rough stretch in the last few weeks before the break brought the northsiders back to earth. Still a sizeable lead in the division.
  2. St. Louis: Picked first. Squarely in the WC race, but overall not as strong as they were in 2015.
  3. Pittsburgh: Picked third. Solid overall club, another WC contender.
  4. Milwaukee: Picked fourth. Below average team, will avoid the cellar.
  5. Cincinnati: Picked fifth. They waived the white flag over the winter.

National League West

  1. San Francisco: Picked first. Even better than expected, impressive having the best record in baseball at the break considering the run the Cubs had been on.
  2. Los Angeles: Still in the hunt for the WC, strong team, but having Kershaw on the DL doesn’t help. Picked second.
  3. Colorado: Picked fifth. Potent offense is giving this club a shot at a .500 season.
  4. San Diego: Picked fourth. They are a fourth place team, not sure what else to say.
  5. Arizona: Picked third. Was expecting more from this club. Injuries have not helped at all.

There you have it, folks. Once again, baseball proves to be the craziest sport to predict. The second half of the season is set to get underway and who knows what’ll happen…