Aroldis Chapman creates fear every time he steps on the mound. As a left-handed closer standing at 6-4 and commonly featuring 100 mph heaters, it’s fair to suggest most at-bats against him are, in a word, uncomfortable.
In 252 2/3 innings pitched throughout his career, Chapman’s managed to pile up 430 strikeouts. His ERA is 2.32 and his WHIP sits in that outstanding sub-1.00 range at 0.98. Despite this utter dominance, Chapman’s name is the subject of trade speculation. Should the Cincinnati Reds move its superb closer? Given his skyrocketed value and baseball’s starving need for bullpen pieces, plus the Reds limited prospects of winning a title during Chapman’s remaining years of control, yes, they should.
Chapman is entering his second season of arbitration eligibility this year. He’ll be a free agent in 2017. If Andrew Miller received four-years, $36 million from the New York Yankees, and if David Robertson landed a four-year, $46 million deal from the Chicago White Sox, how much is Chapman worth? His body of work, while smaller, is stronger than both pitchers. His peak years have barely been entered. The lefty will command a gigantic sum on the open market. Teams outside of Cincinnati will likely outbid them by a wide margin.
The Reds are in that unsettling middle ground stage. The Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips contracts signify a commitment to winning, the Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon trades were made with an eye on the future. Johnny Cueto, the ultimate prize in Cincinnati, could walk after next season. He also might sign long-term. Where does this leave Chapman? He can help the Reds win for the next two seasons, but the team isn’t exactly a World Series contender. Plus two years of control remaining on Chapman makes him a large leverage point.
In a world of dreamers and unrealistic aspirations in the professional sports world, understanding limitations is underrated. There’s no shame in tearing down a non-champion. Votto’s contract can’t be moved, but wouldn’t a return on Chapman, and a return on Cueto if Cincinnati’s feeling extra courageous, set the team squarely for the future? Prospects are volatile, granted, so moving superstars for them can be dissatisfying. If Cueto and Chapman walk in free agency though, the Reds are royally ruined from all organizational standpoints.
If Cincinnati opts to keep Chapman for 2015 and beyond, his fastball will buzz, his dominance will overwhelm and his saves will mount. The Reds might even top out at 85 wins and contend for a playoff spot. More likely picture is this, they stand pat, attempt to resign Cueto while keeping Chapman, and end up clinging to a nucleus that hasn’t even brought a playoff series victory. If a World Series isn’t in reach for the Reds, there shouldn’t be any hesitation moving Chapman for an extraordinary package. Chapman would help Cincinnati in the short-term, moving him might be the first step to solidifying the future.