Let it be known now if it weren’t already: The Chicago Cubs will do just about anything to finally win a World Series.
On Monday, that meant consummating a blockbuster trade with the New York Yankees that will bring Aroldis Chapman to town, along with his 105 mph fastball and all the baggage his name carries these days, in exchange for four players who are now going to the Yankees.
The message is clear: This is about winning. Now. Nevermind that Chapman is a free agent at season’s end. Don’t worry that he probably won’t pitch more than a couple dozen times for the Cubs. And try not to dwell on the uneasiness some Cubs fans will feel watching Chapman — the man in the highest-profile domestic violence case of baseball’s offseason — close out games in a Cubs cap.
The Cubs are doing everything to break their 108-year World Series drought and are willing to pay steeply, both in players and in public relations. They’re sending their top prospect, 19-year-old shortstop Gleyber Torres, which alone is a lot for a three-month rental.
But then, according to various reports, the Cubs are also sending outfield prospect Billy McKinney, pitcher Adam Warren and minor-league outfielder Rashad Crawford. McKinney is a former first-round pick who the Cubs got from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija two years ago. Warren was drafted by the Yankees and played with them his entire career until he was sent to Chicago last winter in the Starlin Castro swap.
As August Fagerstrom wrote at Fangraphs, this proves the cost of elite relievers has reached an all-time high, which could be good news for the Yankees as they still have Andrew Miller on the seller’s block:
It looks like the kind of return we might’ve expected for two-and-a-half reasonably priced years of Miller. It’s the kind of return that forces us to once again re-evaluate our perception of a reliever’s trade value. The kind of return that forces a club like the Royals to think long and hard about selling what they’ve got at the back-end of their bullpen, and has to make the Yankees wonder what they could get for their lefty with real trade value. Even considering the possibility of the suspension that loomed over Chapman and suppressed his trade value in the offseason, the difference between what it cost the Yankees to acquire Chapman and what they’re about to receive for him is both staggering and puzzling.
Indeed, the Yankees come out looking like bandits and the Cubs, well, if they win that World Series and parade around Wrigleyville, nobody will be pining too much for Torres, Warren or McKinney.
Truth is, the Cubs have built quite a farm system the past few years from which they can bargain in situations just like this one. Their core is young enough and good enough that they won’t, in theory, need a new wave of young talent to save them in a couple of years.
They were the best team for most of the first half, faltering a bit in the weeks before the All-Star break but regaining their footing as baseball’s top team heading into play Monday with a 59-38 record. When you’re in that position, you have to go for it, right? That’s the mentality that purveys in modern sports, where legacies and failures are judged more closely than ever before and where your consolation trophy for being good but not great is a Crying Jordan meme.
So the Cubs made a trade that wasn’t easy to make, not just for what they’re giving up, but for the baggage they’re taking on. With Chapman, this is a storyline that can’t be ignored.
Yes, he throws harder than any pitcher in baseball and has proven himself an elite reliever, but if you read the police report from his Oct. 30 domestic incident, then you won’t soon forget the details: He allegedly choked his girlfriend, threw her against a wall then fired eight gunshots in the garage of his Miami-area home.
No charges were filed, but MLB still saw fit to suspend Chapman for the first 30 games of the season under its domestic-violence policy. Afterward, he apologized for firing his gun but insisted he never hurt his girlfriend.
With violence against women a bigger topic in sports than ever before, all this had to be considered in the Cubs’ decision to acquire Chapman. They weren’t just getting a new closer, but a divisive baseball player, whose mere presence would disgust some fans.
The pushback started Sunday when trade rumors were flying and Chicago looked like the landing spot for Chapman. Julie DiCaro, the update anchor at Chicago radio station 670 The Score and a writer at The Cauldron, was front and center, criticizing the Cubs for bringing in Chapman. DiCaro was one of the women in the “More Than Mean” video that went viral earlier this year.
If the #Cubs are going as hard after Chapman as reported, the entire organization, especially the FO, falls several rungs in my estimation.
— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) July 24, 2016
I loved the #Cubs before I loved any team. I fell in love with baseball before I fell in love with a boy. Hurts to feel this way about them.
— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) July 25, 2016
She won’t be the only Cubs fan who feels that way, either, which adds a complicating layer to this 2016 Cubs team that wasn’t there before.
Before this, the Cubs were an easy team to pull for — the long-beaten-up underdogs turned World Series favorites, with likable players such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester and David Ross. The worst thing you could say about them was they swooped in and stole Joe Maddon from the Tampa Bay Rays and then unceremoniously fired previous manager Rick Renteria when they found out they could upgrade.
Now, no matter what happens to the Cubs this year, it will be tinged with, “Was it worth it?” Either because of the players they gave up to get Chapman for three months or the message it sends: It doesn’t matter what you do in your personal life if you can help us a win a World Series.
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