The Cubs put the finishing touches on a blockbuster deal to acquire superstar closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees on Monday, a win-now move that cemented their status as World Series favorites.
This is why Theo Epstein’s baseball operations group spent years collecting long-term assets, so the Cubs could bundle young talent and get the final piece they needed for October without completely mortgaging their future and maybe ride in a parade down Michigan Avenue.
“This was a show of faith in our big-league team,” Epstein said before a 5-4 walk-off loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. “It was an aggressive move. It was tough to give up what we gave up, but if not now, when? This was the appropriate move given where we are and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The headliner for the Yankees is Gleyber Torres, a consensus top prospect and a defensively gifted shortstop out of Venezuela. Torres is only 19 years old and had already advanced to the high Class-A level, but he didn’t have a clear path to Wrigley Field with middle infielders Addison Russell and Javier Baez already in place.
No one can replace Chapman’s 105-mph fastball, but the Yankees also wanted Adam Warren to help patch together their pitching staff again and not make this seem like a White Flag Trade to the New York fans and media. Warren – who had been optioned back to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday to stretch out as a starter – never really carved out a role in Chicago after arriving through the Starlin Castro trade.
Chasing the franchise’s first championship since 1908, the Cubs also gave up two minor-league outfielders: Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. McKinney – a first-round pick acquired along with Russell from the Oakland A’s in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade – had been hitting .252 with one homer and a .677 OPS in 88 games at Double-A Tennessee this season. Crawford, 22, had teamed up with Torres at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach, hitting .255 with 22 stolen bases in 83 games.
The cost is high for a rental player who can become a free agent after this season – Epstein signaled the Cubs have not engaged in extension talks with Chapman’s camp. But there is no one else out there quite like Chapman, and the Cubs can process the trade knowing they are still saturated with young position players, and didn’t have to give up Kyle Schwarber, a slugger the Yankees coveted in any deal for All-Star reliever Andrew Miller.
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The Cubs also rationalized the 30-game suspension Chapman served this season under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy after an incident with his girlfriend in South Florida last fall, betting on manager Joe Maddon, a strong coaching staff and a good clubhouse mix of veterans and young players.
“I’m sure that you’re going to hear some kind of negativity,” Maddon said. “I totally understand and get that. However, I’m always about moving things forward. I’m not going to sit and reflect on that. He’s owned up to it. He’s moved on from that. He served his 30-game sentence.
“Maybe that might not have been good enough for some people. And I get that, too. At the end of the day, he’s a Chicago Cub right now. That’s my responsibility as the manager of this team to make this thing work as well as it possibly can for us and for him. So I’m eager to get to know him. I really am.”
This allows Maddon to shorten games and change the entire shape of his bullpen, moving closer Hector Rondon to the eighth inning while freeing up setup guy Pedro Strop and incorporating new additions Joe Nathan and Mike Montgomery and not pushing rookie Carl Edwards Jr. too hard.
It’s also a move against the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants, two first-place teams in the market for bullpen help that now might have to face Chapman in October. Good luck with that. Chapman converted 20-of-21 save chances for the Yankees and has 590 strikeouts in 350-plus innings in The Show.
“You can’t take for granted the position that we’re in right now,” Epstein said. “We have a dynamic and healthy starting pitching staff. We have a really talented bullpen, two MVP candidates in their prime, moving into their prime. We have a lot of talented hitters up and down the lineup, a really great defense. And they’ve worked their tail off to build up this nice lead.
“We believe in these guys. We feel like we have a chance to do something special, but there’s a lot of work ahead to finish strong down the stretch and make sure we get into the postseason. And then the goal is to win three postseason series.
“That’s not an easy thing to do. You need dynamic players. We felt like we really could benefit from an elite talent, a game-changing pitcher like Aroldis Chapman.
“As you get down the stretch into the big games and hopefully into the postseason, those types of late-inning relievers take on even more (significance), even greater value, available to pitch every game, changing the scope of the game and the outlook of the game.”
And maybe even change the course of franchise history, because this move is all about Chapman getting the final out in this year’s World Series.