This Cubs-Yankees Bullpen Trade Rumor Makes a Lot of Sense for Both Teams
The New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs are heading in opposite directions.
The Cubs, well, they’ve pretty much reached their destination, cementing themselves as the best, most complete team in baseball. The Yankees, on the other hand, are treading water as they circle the drain, sitting squarely as a middle-of-the-pack type team.
This makes them ideal trade partners.
In short, the Cubs are looking to bolster their roster for a title run while New York should be tearing down and gearing up for the future. What makes this a real match made in heaven in that New York’s one true strength -- its ungodly bullpen -- is the one area Chicago is likely to address this trade deadline, if it makes any moves.
Those recent Cubs-Yankees bullpen rumors were actually understated. Chicago wants BOTH Chapman and Miller in a deal. https://t.co/vPjVEM6Vau
— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) June 15, 2016
Here’s why this kind of deal makes a lot of sense for both teams.
For The Cubs
The Cubs are so dang good. Everyone knows this. They’ve been written about so much this season, across all baseball sites, that at this point, any Cubs article seems like overkill. But this team is so unique, so great, it really is deserving of the spotlight.
The Cubs have one of the game’s best offenses and one of baseball’s top pitching staffs. When making out his lineup, manager Joe Maddon has all the tools he could want at his disposal in terms of interchangeable parts. Back-of-the-rotation arms Kyle Hendricks (3.37 SIERA) and Jason Hammel (3.45 SIERA) have been outstanding this season, making it unlikely that Chicago adds another starting pitcher.
The Cubs' bullpen -- which is really good, too, ranking fourth in bullpen Wins Above Replacement (WAR), per FanGraphs -- is the only area where it makes much sense for the Cubs to add any significant pieces.
Calling Miller and Chapman significant pieces is probably a slap in the face. They’re two of the best relievers in the game, along with fellow Yankees’ flamethrower Dellin Betances. Each stud in New York’s three-headed bullpen monster ranks in the top six in SIERA among relievers this season, and they’re putting up comically-good numbers.
Chapman has thrown just 14 innings this year because of his domestic violence suspension, but he’s posted a 37.5% strikeout rate and a career-best 5.4% walk rate with a 1.88 SIERA. Boasting the best fastball in the game, Chapman owns a 1.88 SIERA, 42.7% strikeout rate, and 11.9% walk rate for his career.
A pitcher with triple-digits heat shouldn't be able to have that kind of slider. He’s unfair.
As great as Chapman is, Miller’s numbers -- and his slide piece -- take a backseat to nobody.
A year ago, Miller recorded a 40.7% strikeout rate and 1.72 SIERA -- which ranked second and third, respectively, among qualified relievers -- to go with an 8.1% walk rate. Somehow, those numbers pale in comparison to what he is doing in 2016 as Miller has put up a 0.76 SIERA, 49.0% strikeout rate and 2.9% walk rate.
In 27 2/3 innings, Miller has faced 104 batters. He’s fanned 51 of them while walking three.
As an organization, it’s always hard to trade away young, cheap talent which has already proven itself at the big-league level. If there is any team that can afford to do it, it’s the Cubs, who haven’t missed a beat without Kyle Schwarber. Maddon has to work hard to find regular playing time for Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, a pair of former top prospects with immense upside. The Cubs just called up Albert Almora Jr., another highly-regarded prospect, and blue-chipper Gleyber Torres is dominating down on the farm.
It’s unclear at this point who the Yankees would want in return (we’ll take some guesses in a minute), but Chicago has enough young, cost-controlled talent that they can make just about any trade their heart desires.
For the Yankees
The Yankees might have the best bullpen ever assembled, but the rest of their team is so blah, it has hardly mattered. The Bronx Bombers are spiraling dangerously into the land of average-ness, where they won’t get any top draft picks and they’re unlikely to contend for a title.
In truth, this started last season as the Yankees made the playoffs despite fielding just a slightly above-average team, ranking 15th in offensive WAR and 10th in pitching WAR. I don’t want to go all Sam Hinkie here, but it doesn’t do New York -- or anyone -- much good to be average. If you’re not contending for a title, with the system the way it is, it’s advantageous to stink, thereby getting better picks and saving money for down the road.
You know who the Yankees should emulate? The Cubs!
When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over, they tore everything down to build it back up. They traded competent big leaguers for prospects (Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo), gambled on low-cost lottery tickets (Jake Arrieta), and hit home runs in the draft (Kris Bryant and Schwarber) with the top picks they landed from losing. Then, when the young core was ready to compete, Chicago had the dough to go out and add free-agent talent (John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, Jon Lester, and Jason Heyward).
Of course, it rarely works out as well as it has for the Cubs -- Hoyer and Epstein have pretty much aced it -- but it makes a lot of sense for the Yankees to try to follow that same path.
Anything can happen in baseball, but New York doesn’t have near the squad of the division rivals Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, or Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees sit 18th in our power rankings, and we give them a meager 3.9% chance to win the American League East. They should be ready to fold their cards on this season with an eye toward the future.
Undoubtedly, Miller, Chapman, and Betances are the Yankees’ most attractive pieces. Seeing as Betances is making just $507,000 this year -- compared to $11.3 million for Chapman and $9 million for Miller -- he’s not going anywhere. Chapman is scheduled to be a free agent after this season while Miller is signed through 2018, so Chapman is probably the one most likely to go if New York is only willing to part with one guy, although Miller's team-friendly deal could net them more.
As for what New York will want, the Yankees will probably ask for some combination of top prospects and/or proven, young big-league talent. Baez, Soler and Schwarber -- can you imagine Schwarber playing 81 games a year at Yankee Stadium?! -- would all be high on the Yankees’ wish list, to be sure, but the Cubs have not yet dealt away from their young core with the exception of Starlin Castro, who, ironically, went to the Yankees for reliever Adam Warren.
Hot stove season is equally as entertaining for rumors that don’t amount to anything as it is for the deals that actually get done. While this type of swap makes sense for both parties, it doesn’t mean it’ll happen.
It sure is fun to ponder, though.
If the Cubs are able to land both Miller and Chapman, they might be the perfect team. Even if the Cubs got just one of the Yankees’ superstar bullpen arms, it would further strengthen their grip on the title of baseball’s best squad.
It doesn’t guarantee them a single thing when it comes to baseball’s unpredictable postseason, but the Cubs’ brass could rest easy knowing they’ve done just about everything possible to put a championship team on the field.