The Cubs are still trying to better understand Aroldis Chapman after last week’s win-now trade with the New York Yankees, lost-in-translation press conference and must-see debut at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs made that blockbuster deal while envisioning mad-scientist manager Joe Maddon unleashing a 105-mph closer at the highest-leverage moments, changing the entire shape of their bullpen and shortening playoff games. Except Chapman doesn’t like to get four-out saves.
“I didn’t know that,” Maddon said Sunday. “Not that it would matter, but I didn’t know that. I was not aware of that.”
At least that’s what Chapman said through translator/teammate Pedro Strop after Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners, telling reporters “it’s not my favorite thing to do, but that’s my job. It’s the manager’s decision. I’m ready to do anything.”
The Yankees essentially used Chapman one inning at a time after he served his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, never deploying him for a four-out save and watching him go 20-for-21 in save situations.
Maddon is an aggressive, outside-the-box thinker who already had Chapman get the final four outs last week against the White Sox for his first save in a Cubs uniform. Maddon’s outcome-bias radar started beeping after Leonys Martin’s two-out, two-run, go-ahead double off Chapman in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon.
“There’s nothing really tricky about it,” Maddon said. “If you choose to not use (Chapman) right there, and the lead goes away without having utilized him, then you’re really upset with yourself.”
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Maddon felt that Chapman had been well-rested and would be a better no-contact matchup than Hector Rondon. The Cubs saw the heart of Seattle’s lineup coming with Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. This is why you acquire a game-changing lefty who has triple-digit velocity as a default setting and knows how to pitch.
“Just say you utilize him right there and you score four or five runs the next inning, which is possible,” Maddon said. “Then you would take him out again, anyway, and just save him, because we have enough bullpen after that. So there are all these different moments.
“Do you wait to use him the next inning, not knowing if the lead’s going to be there or not? You knew the lead was there. He’s the perfect guy in that particular moment. It just didn’t work.”
The bigger questions revolve around how well the Cubs really know Chapman, and how to maximize his impact in October after that World Series-or-bust trade.