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.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.