Yesterday the rumors started taking shape and the return the Yankees were asking turned out to be considerable.
The Nationals were asked to give up several top pitching prospects such as Eric Fedde and Koda Glover, though Joe Ross was also apparently requested by the Yankees.
The Cubs were apparently offering four players including top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres to get Chapman and a second but lesser pitcher, and eventually did make that sort of deal according to multiple reports.
These are big cost-controlled names that are being bandied about, each of which could be a future star.
Why might these particular teams be willing to pay that kind of price? These are two teams that both have every intention of going deep into the postseason this year.
Let's compare the two bullpens top to bottom and see where Chapman would have the biggest impact:
For comparison sake, Aroldis Chapman - 2.01 ERA, 31.1 IP, 0.89 WHIP, all right in line with his career numbers.
1) Cubs - Hector Rondon - 1.95 ERA, 37.0 IP, 0.73 WHIP
1) Nats - Blake Treinen - 2.08 ERA, 39.0 IP, 1.26 WHIP
Hector Rondon is better than anybody the Nats have, but Treinen does appear to be getting similar results thus far. Results matter because they win games. Chapman wouldn't give better results than Rondon and has pitched fewer innings, so he wouldn't even be the best pitcher on the Cubs roster if he ends up there.
2) Cubs - Carl Edwards Jr. - 1.93 ERA, 14.0 IP, 0.71 WHIP
2) Nats - Matt Belisle - 1.73 ERA, 26.0 IP, 1.04 WHIP
Carl Edwards is a not-so-great pitcher who happens to look very good thanks to the power of small sample size. Belisle can play that game too, and so far he has played it better and nearly twice as often this year.
3) Cubs - Pedro Strop - 2.87 ERA, 37.2 IP, 0.85 WHIP
3) Nats - Yusmeiro Petit - 2.25 ERA, 40.0 IP, 1.08 WHIP
If you're a Cubs fan don't strop reading yet. The Nationals are starting to edge ahead just a petit in this race but it doesn't get really grimm for the Cubs until much later in the list.
4) Cubs - Travis Wood - 2.88 ERA, 40.2 IP, 1.01 WHIP
4) Nats - Sammy Solis - 2.43 ERA, 29.2 IP, 1.21 WHIP
Wood is not the best in the business but he has worked harder than anyone to shore up the Cubs bullpen. This lefty has appeared in 49 games with good returns. No National has had to work more than 44 games so far.
5) Cubs - Trevor Cahill - 3.07 ERA, 41.0 IP, 1.39 WHIP (15 day DL, knee)
5) Nats - Shawn Kelley - 3.11 ERA, 37.2 IP, 1.01 WHIP
5) Reds - Blake Wood - 2.91 ERA, 46.1 IP, 1.42 WHIP
Here is what separates the best from the worst. Blake Wood is the best bullpen pitcher on the Reds staff this year and he matches up best with the fifth pair of Cubs/Nats pitchers we are looking at today.
6) Cubs - Justin Grimm - 5.06 ERA, 32.0 IP, 1.38 WHIP
6) Nats - Jonathan Papelbon - 3.62 ERA, 32.1 IP, 1.30 WHIP
Here is where things go south for the Cubs and where we see why they may have been willing to pay more for a pitcher like Aroldis Chapman than the Nationals were. Both of these pitchers are having serious down years, with Grimm's ERA three points higher than last year.
7) Cubs - Adam Warren (reportedly part of deal) - 6.60 ERA, 30.0 IP, 1.57 WHIP (replaced by Joe Nathan)
7) Nats - Felipe Rivero - 4.34 ERA, 47.2 IP, 1.09 WHIP
Rivero under-performing has been a big disappointment to the Nationals, but how would Nats fans react if they had to put up with a pitcher who allowed fifty percent more runs?
Then again, how would Nats fans react if Chapman was pitching for the Nationals allowing fifty percent fewer runs compared to Rivero?
8) Cubs - Clayton Richard - 6.43 ERA, 14.0 IP, 2.14 WHIP
& Spencer Patton - 5.11 ERA, 12.1 IP, 1.54 WHIP (sent to AAA 3x in ‘16)
8) Nats - Oliver Perez - 4.30 ERA, 29.1 IP, 1.19 WHIP
We apologize to Ollie's fans for ranking him dead last, but look how great his season looks when he's stacked up against a guy who allows over two baserunners per inning!
The Nats are clearly lucky to have him anchoring the back of the bullpen even if he is no Chapman.
The bottom of the Cubs bullpen is a very real problem and they know that Aroldis Chapman would go a long way toward shoring up this weakness.
That explains why the Cubs were apparently willing to pay more for Chapman than the Nationals.
Is it worth parting with multiple top prospects for an expensive bullpen arm? Perhaps, but only a team that is desperate to win in historic fashion will pay that price. The Cubs don’t need Chapman to win their division. They are making a big October gamble here.
The Nationals would certainly love to improve their bullpen too, but trying to outbid the Cubs to land the best reliever on the market is probably not a great strategy given that the Nationals already have arguably the best bullpen in baseball right now (#1 in ERA, #2 in FIP).
The Nationals would only see about half as much improvement to their bullpen from Aroldis Chapman as the Cubs will if they did indeed land him (and it appears that they did).
Mike Rizzo does not need to mortgage the future. The Nationals have weak spots in their roster, but the bullpen is not a weak spot and it is not a place to spend big right now.