Trade Deadline

Another front office gut punch

I read the news today, oh boy.

The Yankees trade of Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs lays bare the serial and disastrous mishandling by the Cincinnati Reds of a prime asset. The failure of the Reds to execute a trade like the Yankees did this afternoon could make the difference between success and failure of the Rebuild. Nothing much, just that.

Today’s trade is the perfect coda for the Chapman tragedy.

Like Mr. Cohen at the Chinese restaurant, Aroldis Chapman should always have been traded. Well, at least since May 2012, when Dusty Baker siloed the Cuban Missile into the closer’s role and 65 innings a season.

But even if the decision to use Chapman in the bullpen was the right one, the Reds’ fumbling of his trade was a calamity for the organization.

Today, Reds fans can see the stark difference a front office can make.

This time last summer, the Reds were in the process of shopping/not shopping a season-and-a-half of Aroldis Chapman to postseason contenders. (You remember, it was about the same time Walt Jocketty flatly declared he wouldn’t trade Todd Frazier.) To no one’s surprise, interest from other clubs in Chapman was dizzying. The Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees and Houston Astros were eager suitors. Several writers reported the Reds were asking for three top-ten prospects to part with their All-Star closer.

But in the end, the Reds pulled back. Maybe it was hesitation by the owner to trade a popular player. Maybe insularity allowed the front office to overvalue closers in general and Chapman in particular. Maybe risk aversion paralyzed decision-making or old-school grinding backfired. Plenty of blame to go around, but it was clearly a bad decision to wait and risk injury or who knows what. The Reds made the fateful decision to delay moving Chapman until the offseason.

In November, Boston appeared to be a good match. But the Red Sox chose San Diego closer Craig Kimbrel instead. On the Monday of the December winter meetings, it looked to all the world like the Reds had reached a deal to trade Chapman to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But that afternoon, the explosive details of an October 30 incident involving Aroldis Chapman and his girlfriend became public and derailed the agreement. That was December 7, a day of infamy for Reds fans to be sure. We also learned the Red Sox had found out about Chapman’s incident a month before, a discovery that caused their withdrawal from the November talks. The best reading of the situation was that the Reds hadn’t done a basic background check and were blindsided.

In accordance with its just-adopted domestic violence policy, MLB launched an investigation of the incident. The outcome was uncertain since the process was new. Most experts believed Chapman would receive between 0 and 45 games punishment.

The Reds chose not to wait and see. On December 28, they traded Chapman to the New York Yankees for four players. Billy Witz, sportswriter for the New York Times, described the Reds return as “rock bottom in baseball terms: four minor leaguers, none of them top prospects.” The headliner was pitcher Rookie Davis who hadn’t sniffed a top-100 MLB prospect list. The highest anyone had him ranked in the Yankee’s system was sixth and many had Davis outside their top ten. That the Reds could have received a compensation pick for Chapman at the end of 2016 makes the decision to trade him on those terms even more questionable.

The cloud of the MLB investigation hanging over Chapman surely caused the poor return. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said point blank the Reds’ asking price for Chapman had been “modified.” According to C. Trent Rosecrans, another big-league executive revealed his team had offered a much better package before reports of the incident surfaced.

Instead of acknowledging this reality, the Reds treated their fans like idiots and dug in.

Reds president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty insisted that Chapman’s behavior, the investigation and pending punishment didn’t affect trade negotiations and that the Reds got full value for Chapman.

Jocketty’s statements were insulting to anyone with a lick of common sense. Instead of candor, he chose the worst kind of CYA – the kind that defies belief. He must have figured to do otherwise would raise questions about the decision not to trade Chapman the previous summer nor wait until the investigation had cleared and trade Chapman this summer.

We now have incontrovertible evidence that Jocketty was either being untruthful or incompetent.

The Yankees, who decided to wait out Chapman’s 30-game suspension, just traded Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs for Gleyber Torres – a slick-fielding shortstop who has shown developing power and plate discipline this season. He’s 3.5 years younger than his league average. MLB Pipeline (MLBP) rates Torres #24 in baseball and #1 in the Cubs system. Baseball Prospectus (BP)  ranks him #1 with the Cubs and #34 overall in their midseason rankings. Baseball America (BA) has him #1 with the Cubs and #27 over all in their midseason rankings.

Torres is not all the Yankees received. They hauled in Billy McKinney (OF, #4 Cubs prospect BP, #75 overall MLBP) and another prospect, possibly Rashad Crawford (OF). Also included was Adam Warren, an established major league pitcher who the Yankees could slot into their rotation allowing them to make an additional trade.

/cue appropriate response to this development – h/t Mike Maffie/

So the Yankees received a substantially bigger return for a half season of Chapman than the Reds did for a full season of his services. A writer at FanGraphs just described the difference as staggering. Gleyber Torres would be the #1 prospect in the Reds system. Acquiring a player like Torres, let alone Torres and McKinney, could have gone a long way toward the success of the Rebuild.

For an all-too-brief moment, we might have rationalized the Reds dumping Chapman for pennies on the dollar. Perhaps the organization didn’t want the association with domestic violence. Yeah, that’s it – good feelings about our favorite team acting with principle and conscience.

Except the Reds never mentioned this as a factor. Remember, they were maintaining just the opposite – nothing to see or smell here. And any warm fuzzies we might have allowed ourselves were obliterated a few months later when the Reds – gratuitously – signed pitcher Alfredo Simon. That single action, ahead of a season destined for a high draft pick, undercut any notion that avoiding players stained by domestic violence allegations was a guiding canon. If the Reds have ever issued a statement saying they don’t condone domestic violence among their players, I haven’t found it. They’ve had plenty of opportunity.

Let’s stipulate the Reds have made four Rebuild trades (Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon) that appear promising in varying degrees. If you’re in a generous mood, blame the Chapman fiasco partly on Ryan Madson’s elbow ligament and other events beyond the Reds control. Nothing in the Rebuild Binder or PowerPoint presentation covered gunplay in the garage.

Still. Based on today’s trade, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Reds front office, ownership included, has been nowhere near up to the task at hand.

The 2016 non-waiver trade deadline is 4 p.m. August 1. Brace yourselves.

176 thoughts on “Another front office gut punch

  1. The Reds FO has made a series of decisions that had a negative outcome….some were bad decisions, some just didn’t work out. They have one of the 3 worst records in the game and they own that.

    However, I believe they had an expectation that their fan base was stronger and more enaged during the 2010-2014 period and that led to some of the problems. They put an extremely good product on the field and still drew less than they did in 1976. They re-signed their best player to a 10 year deal and it had no impact. Ownership made commitments and the “great baseball town” didn’t show up….my God, the Brewers have drawn 3 million….the Rockies have drawn 4 million.

    When your fan base doesn’t come thorough, it’s easy to make decisions based largely on dollars and cents.

    • Sorry, but that is a poor excuse for the FO failures. They need to strive to put a winning product on the field- period. Instead, they have made trades that were salary dumps with little in return. There goes Aroldis Chapman. There goes Todd Frazier. Don’t hold your breath until the players the Reds received in return become major league players of comparable abilities.
      Maybe the FO needs to realize that Reds fans don’t want just to win a few games. They want to win the World Series- or at least play in it. They don’t want a FO that squanders the opportunity to make a run for the World Series by failing to make any meaningful trades at the deadline.
      2013 was the year the FO lost the Reds fans- and apparently lost the team. They refused to get any help at the trade deadline while other teams loaded up. Then, the Reds whimpered out in the Wildcard game against the Pirates. Have you noticed that the Reds have performed very poorly ever since that August 1st deadline in 2013? Some of the Reds players noted then that it was disappointing that the FO made no effort to get the club the help they needed. In 2014, the Reds had a losing record with almost the same team back. 2015 was worse. This year is even worse- one of the worst teams in major league history. So, don’t blame the fans for what the FO has done to this franchise.

  2. Knowing our luck the Yanks just landed their next Derek freakin Jeter out of our beloved Chapman and we’ll be lucky to get a replacement level bullpen arm out of our haul.

  3. I was at the last Cubs series at GABP. It was tough to watch plus being outnumbered by Cubs fans. I dread seeing Chapman coming back to mow down the Reds hitters in the 9th at GABP with all the Cubs fans going wild. They will not be coming back to town until late Sept./Oct. so I have awhile to wait. Maybe they will rest him for the playoffs?

  4. The Reds had to do what they did with Chapman. At the time just about everyone agreed it was the proper course. They had a proverbial gun held to their head to get rid of Chapman.
    The Yankees had no gun issues. The Yankees were also dealing from a whole lot of strength. Despite their current run the Yankees are the most powerful organization in baseball. Things just go your way when you are at the top.
    It is all about the Pinstripes.

    • The trade shows that the Yankees are rebuilding, not all-in for this year, and it shows that the Cubs are in the opposite position. Only a team like the Cubs–loaded with talent but feeling historically snake-bit and desperate to reverse their tradition–was going to give up so much for a half-year closer. I’m certainly not defending the Reds’ FO, but trades like this one require the proper alignment of the stars, and evaluations of this trade and the recent trades that the Reds have made are–by necessity–based upon projections, not MLB performance, so surprises, positive or negative, are possible.

      • Those are good nuances to bring up. And it does take an alignment of factors to make a trade work.

        However, it was reported that up to 4 teams were in on Chapman last year, including the spendthrift D-Backs. And the Reds apparently still overplayed their hand. Surely, they could have come up with a better deal than they ended up with. It may not have been equal to the Cubs/Yankees deal but it likely could have approached that return considering that the receiving team would get an additional year of Chapman.

        I could even forgive them for failing to get a deal completed last year. They tried to get as much as possible but miscalculated the market. It wasn’t the end of the world. But then they turned around and made a move in haste to unload Chapman at what was clearly his lowest value. There seems to be either no plan in the FO or they don’t have the fortitude to stick with it when things don’t go their way.

        In either case, with the state of the team, the rebuild looks like it will sputter at best for the next half decade, or worse, we return to the malaise that was the early 2000’s. Hell, we’re already getting there looking back at this year and the two previous seasons.

    • They didn’t have to do anything at the time. It could be, and indeed was, argued that the Reds should have held him until the next season’s trade deadline rather than dumping him over the winter on the heels of the domestic dispute reports.

      What we do know was that shortly after that story broke, the legal authorities made clear that no charges would be brought. True, no one knew for sure at the time what MLB would do as far as discipline but most speculation was that he would be suspended about the amount of time as he actually did end up getting suspended. Moreover, if the penalty had been much greater, Chapman would not have qualified for free agency, thus pushing control back to the Reds for another year.

      And yes, the Reds didn’t need a dominant closer for the sad sack team they were planning on running out there this year but they had a valuable trade chip and they failed to deal him at last year’s trade deadline and then dropped him at his lowest point of value. Not exactly following the “Rebuild Binder”™, is it?

    • We all know the Yankees are the big dog of baseball, but if the Reds had had a top-notch front office the Chapman saga could have turned out better for the good-guys. The FO panicked and sold low in December instead of holding on until the current trade deadline. C’est fini. Back to the rebuild.

  5. All these comments about how the Reds had to trade Chapman last winter make no sense. Based on what? Sure they wanted to reduce payroll because they expected to lose, but that’s a long way from needing to. If they had prioritized the team, they could have easily afforded the $5mil or so it would have cost to keep Chapman around for half a season.

    • That’s essentially it. If that’s what the FO was truly thinking, it was penny-wise, pound foolish thinking. His arbitration increased salary was insignificant to the cost of getting a better return on a trade. Plus, the team had already shed payroll after Cueto, Leake and Frazier came off the payroll. They could afford to keep Chapman around for half a season to rebuild value. Seriously, I hope I never hear it confirmed that this was their line of thinking. I already have enough doubts about their wherewithal.

    • Frazier and Chapman in aggregate would’ve cost around 19 million this year. Attendance is on pace to drop around 600k so that an estimated 18-19 million in reduced revenue. I’m not sure when season ticket renewals are due, but they obviously knew attendance (revenue) was going to plummet after a 98 loss season.

      They still have no cable deal for next year and that could drag on for a while since Time Warner (dominant provider in SW Ohio) was purchased in the spring and the subscriber fees given to Fox Sports Ohio need to be negotiated with a new set of people.

      I’m not Bob C’s accountant, but they had ample reason to be concerned about cost this year and avoiding long term commitments until after the cable deal is finalized.

      • I agree with you that there are likely some financial pressures resulting from lower attendance numbers and from an uncertain TV deal. But keeping Chapman for another half season to rebuild his trade value wasn’t going to break the bank either.

        If it were, we got bigger problems than we thought.

  6. Woulda shoulda coulda. You can’t compare what the Reds got for Chapman with what the Yanks got for Chapman. Would the Cubs have offered the same to the Reds for Chapman last year and would it have been smart for the Reds to shop Chapman to a division rival. Of course, hah, Chapman is now back in the division, but maybe only for a year.

    • Not really what the analysis was about though. There were several teams reported to have been discussing a trade for Chapman last year. The Reds didn’t need to get the same return the Yanks got, just a comparable one. They didn’t get a deal done and made it worse by trading Chapman at his lowest value over the winter. Just bad management of a rebuild strategy.

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