This Trade in History: Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs

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The 2016 deadline trade of Aroldis Chapman is considered by many to be one of the most lopsided overpays in history. But was it?

In this latest installment of our series on historic trades, we explore what they might have looked like using the model we have today.

Note: Since this site (and our model) didn’t exist when these trades occurred, we may not have access to all the data we currently use, so some of the inputs are not as accurate as they would be today. But let’s try it anyway, just for fun.

—–

On July 25, 2016, the New York Yankees traded closer Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs  for three prospects – 2B/SS Gleyber Torres, OF Billy McKinney, and OF Rashad Crawford – and reliever Adam Warren. It was considered a mind-blowing haul for New York.

At the time, the Cubs had a formidable team, and were going all-in to win their first World Series since 1908. Acquiring Chapman was the cherry on top, the late-inning arm they needed to ensure playoff victories.

The Yankees, meanwhile, had no need for Chapman that year once they realized they didn’t quite have all the pieces to contend. Although they’ve never had a rebuilding year, this one came close – they finished in 4th place (albeit with a winning record of 84-78) – so they wisely took the opportunity to sell short-term assets like Chapman to acquire longer-term pieces like Torres. And, as if to have their cake and eat it too, they turned around and re-signed Chapman to a long-term contract in the following offseason, to the delight of Yankee fans.

In July, then, the Yankees were sellers and the Cubs were clear buyers.

So what would our numbers show if we’d had the model then? How lopsided was it?

—-

Imagine it’s July, 2016, and we’re looking ahead.

Aroldis Chapman is, arguably, the most dominant reliever in baseball. And he’s not only elite, he’s consistently elite. That’s a rare combination. He would be well on his way to producing 2.7 fWAR in 2016, after putting up 2.5 in 2015 and 2.8 in 2014, the latter two seasons with the Reds. And he’s still in his prime, at age 28.

Further, his peripherals back it up. He’s sporting a ridiculous .220 xwOBA (average for a reliever is about .300). His WPA (Win Probability Added, a key stat for relievers) is on its way to 2.96, after two consecutive years of 2.53. His K%-BB% is 32.4, also extraordinary. There’s just no weakness here – everywhere you look it’s dominance.

On the downside, he’s a rental. The Cubs would be getting him for only two months, plus whatever he delivers in the playoffs. And he’s not super cheap, as he’s making $11.3M on his contract. Then again, the Cubs would only be paying a third of that.

So given all that, let’s take a look at what our model would show:

Name

Years

AFV

Salary

Surplus

Low

Median

High

Chapman

0.3

24.3

3.7

20.6

18.5

22.6

26.7

On the field, he’s worth over $24.3M for those last two months of the regular season, plus October. To be transparent, we’ve included the extra month of field time in our AFV calculation because, for anyone trading for a guy like this, using him in October was the whole idea – to win in the playoffs all the way through the World Series. 

And teams don’t have to pay players in the postseason (they get a bonus from the league instead), so it’s essentially a free month of service from the team’s perspective (assuming they make it a whole month). Therefore, the salary number doesn’t change (the team just needs to pay him for his last two months).

We’ve included a small market premium here as well, skewing his range up a bit to reflect the fact that there would likely be a bidding war for him. We’ve never seen a rental reliever’s numbers this high, but it tracks. Any team trading for Chapman in late 2016 would have to give up at least $22.6M in value.

The Yankees’ return

So let’s see what the Yankees would get back, starting with veteran reliever Adam Warren:

Name

Years

AFV

Salary

Surplus

Low

Median

High

Warren

2.3

0.4

0.6

-0.2

-0.4

-0.2

0

Warren is the same age (28) as Chapman, but nowhere near the same caliber of pitcher. He’s a middling middle reliever, who, at the time of the trade, is struggling, on his way to putting up -0.5 fWAR, a below-average xwOBA, negative WPA, a 5.12 FIP, and a whopping 14.5% HR/FB rate. Opposing hitters are pounding him. He did have a couple of good years before this, which saves his bacon here, but he’s in this deal mostly as just a guy to backfill a bullpen slot.

The prospect piece of the package is where it’s at, and within that, Gleyber Torres is the prize. The valuation estimates at this time for the three minor-leaguers in the deal are (in $Ms; we’ve also adjusted all numbers to 2016-era dollars):

Torres

53.2

McKinney

1.8

Crawford

0.2

Total

55.2

Torres is on his way to being a Top 5 prospect in baseball in the following offseason, per Baseball America and MLB Pipeline; prior to the 2016 season he was ranked No. 41 and No. 28, respectively, by those outlets, so we’ve split the difference here between those values. Fangraphs would also go on to rate him a 60 FV the following offseason, but he was a bit lower than that coming into 2016 (as a 50+, in their old system). So we’ve split the difference there as well. In any case, we feel confident that his value at this time is around this low-50s number.

McKinney is a former first-rounder who hasn’t put it together (and never really would), so his stock has fallen. Crawford is athletic, but hasn’t hit. He’s a flyer.

So these numbers confirm that it’s an overpay by the Cubs: 

Cubs get:

Yankees get:

Chapman

22.6

Torres

53.2

McKinney

1.8

Crawford

0.2

Warren

-0.2

Total

22.6

Total

55.0

On paper, by including Torres, the Cubs overpaid by more than double what Chapman was worth. They gave up an excess $32.4M in value to win the bid, albeit for the most dominant closer in the game at the time. Crazy, right?

So how did each team fare with their new players after that? Let’s take a look.

—–

We know that, with Chapman’s help, the Cubs did indeed go all the way, and won the World Series in 2016 – their first in 108 years. That is impossible to quantify. They bet big, and they won big. Pretty sure Theo Epstein has no regrets.

And how did the Yankees do on their side?

Gleyber Torres, fWAR and value produced (in $Ms, per Fangraphs), plus current projected value:

Torres

fWAR

Value

Salary

Surplus value

2018

2.4

19.3

.545

18.8

2019

3.6

28.5

.605

27.9

2020*

0.4

3.4

.625

2.8

2021

1.2

9.3

4.0

5.3

2022-2024^

6.6

52.8

28.0

24.8

Total

14.3

113.3

33.8

79.5

*2020 salary numbers are adjusted down for the shortened season.

^Projection based on our model, including the remainder of 2022 plus the two subsequent years of control.

Through 2021, Torres has produced $54.7M in surplus value – pretty close to his original prospect estimate. But he’s expected to produce an additional $24.8M for his three final years of control, bringing his total surplus to $79.5M.

To be fair, that’s not the same as his theoretical trade value. That’s because, defensively, Torres has been moved off of shortstop (it became clear last year that he just couldn’t handle the demands of the position), and is a 2B only at this point. That has much less market value. In our model, we’ve accordingly applied a 30% discount to his field value going forward.

Adjusting for that gives us the following:

Gleyber Torres, market value-adjusted:

Torres

fWAR

Value

Salary

Surplus value

2018

2.4

19.3

.545

18.8

2019

3.6

28.5

.605

27.9

2020*

0.4

3.4

.625

2.8

2021

1.2

9.3

4.0

5.3

2022-2024^

6.6

37.0

28.0

9.0

Total

14.3

97.5

33.8

63.7

As a 2B-only from here on (and one that isn’t even playing every day), Torres’ surplus value is eroding. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that, even with that adjustment, Torres is on track to produce $63.7M in total surplus value – a bit more than his prospect estimate of $53.2M at the time of the trade. So, yeah, that one has worked out.

And the other pieces?

Nothing much to see here, folks. 

Adam Warren at least had a bounceback year for the Yankees in 2017, which means they did net some value out of him:

Adam Warren

fWAR

Value

Salary

Surplus Value

2017

1.2

9.4

2.29

7.1

2018

0.2

1.9

3.315

-1.4

Total

3.6

29.1

22.0

5.7

Warren was traded to the Mariners on July 30, 2018 for international bonus slot rights. So the Yankees actually netted some value out of the remainder of his last control year, although for our purposes here we’ll call it a wash, as there isn’t much quantifiable value in those rights.

The larger point is that he was moderately value-positive for them in 2017, which is gravy on top of the main return of Torres.

McKinney has produced a grand total of -0.8 fWAR for his career, for various teams, and has been DFA’d multiple times. However, to the Yankees’ credit, they did manage to recoup some value out of him while he still had some, by trading him (along with Brandon Drury) to Toronto for pitcher J.A. Happ at the 2018 deadline. 

How much was that? Not much. Using some back-of-the-envelope math, Happ was a 35-year-old in the midst of a 3-WAR season, so let’s say he was expected to produce 1 WAR for the remainder of that year. But being 35, he had some injury risk and aging-curve-based performance risk, which means we need to adjust expectations down to the equivalent of about 0.6 fWAR, which means that piece of his season was worth about $4.8M. Pro-rating his $13M down, he was owed $4.3M. So he had a surplus of $0.5M, represented by McKinney and Drury combined. Let’s say McKinney was worth $0.3M of that and call it a day.

Crawford, meanwhile, was a bust. 

Summary

Now let’s look at the big picture. For the purposes of this exercise, we are going to assume the Cubs got at least their money’s worth, as parsing out the exact value of their side from the date of the transaction is complicated, and frankly unnecessary, since we all know what happened.

Cubs got:

Player

Expected surplus value

Actual surplus value delivered/ expected

Gap

Chapman

22.6

22.6

0

Yankees got:

Player

Expected surplus value

Actual surplus value delivered/ expected

Gap

Torres

53.2

63.7

10.5

Warren

-0.2

5.7

5.9

McKinney

1.8

0.3

-1.5

Crawford

0.2

0

-0.2

Total

55.0

69.7

14.7

So, on a surplus value basis, it’s not close. The Yankees gave up $22.6M in value, and got back $69.7M, for a total profit of $45.1M. That’s not a surprise, considering the trade is still viewed today as a major overpay by Chicago.

Key takeaways

You don’t see trades like this very often. The closest one to this we saw was the 2021 deadline trade of Craig Kimbrel from the Cubs to the White Sox – wherein the Sox traded away a former top prospect, Nick Madrigal, and a reliever, Codi Heuer, in the hopes that Kimbrel (like Chapman before him) would put them over the top. It didn’t happen, but the intent was the same, and the degree of overpay was similar.

On paper, then, this one was a major outlier. If our model had been around then, it would have rejected it. But we also would shrug and acknowledge that, sometimes, outliers happen. 

For the Yankees, although Torres’ career has not panned out quite the way they had hoped, he still more or less delivered against reasonable expectations. With every top prospect valuation, there is wiggle room baked in, representing the spectrum of probabilities – on the high end the player becomes a superstar; on the low end, he’s a bust. Torres seems to have settled in the above-average range: he’s not a superstar, but he’s still a useful player.

To get six+ years of that for two months of a closer you don’t need? Any GM would take that to the bank. The fact that Brian Cashman then re-signed Chapman to a free agent deal in the ensuing offseason was further evidence of his poker-playing prowess.

And for the Cubs? They won their first World Series in 108 years, breaking a long curse, with Chapman’s help. You can’t put a price on that.

About the Author

John Bitzer

John Bitzer

Founder and editor of baseballtradevalues.com
7 Comments
  1. DB A

    It’s easy to forget now, but at the moment after the Rajai Davis home run, this was looking like something worse than the worst trade of all time.

    Imagine losing your best prospect for a guy who blew a 3-run lead in the 8th inning of a Game 7?

    Chapman should be sending Ben Zobrist flowers every October.

    • Sam Berg

      i think that instance was more on Maddon leaving Chapman out to dry than Chapman blowing it.

  2. Bennett Johnson

    As a long time Cubs fan, I have several things to say about this deal. First of all, it is doubtful the Cubs get to the World Series, much less win it without Aroldis Chapman. So, as you say, Theo Epstein may not have any regrets for making such a lopsided transaction, but he should, in my opinion. If you go back to the fall of 2015, according to published reports, the Yankees were interested in Starlin Castro, whom they later acquired for Adam Warren (whom the Cubs sent back to the Yankees) after Zobrist signed with the Cubs ahead of the 2016 season. At the time, the Yankees had three lefty relievers, Chapman, Andrea Miller, and Justin Wilson, all of whom could have helped the Cubs.

    Miller was making relatively the same money (@ $9 mil per annum) as Castro, who was an ex-All-Star and .300 lifetime hitter. Miller still had 3 years left on his contract. Castro had 4. I think a Miller-Castro deal would have been highly likely. But, of course, that’s speculation on my part. Eventually, the Yankees trade Miller to Cleveland, so he was on the block. If they wouldn’t swap Miller for Castro, they surely would have traded Wilson. Eventually Wilson goes to Detroit. If the Cubs have Miller or Wilson from the start of 2016, they may not have needed Chapman quite so desperately at the trade deadline.

    After acquiring Chapman, the first thing Epstein did was read him the riot act about his prior misconduct. Chapman told reporters he didn’t pay attention to Epstein’s spiel. However, Epstein did not endear himself to Chapman. I never heard any talk about the Cubs extending Chapman. For the price they paid the Yankees, the Cubs should have insisted on a small window to work out an extension with Chapman, as part of the deal. This did not happen. As you point out, Chapman returned to the Yanks after the World Series. Prior to 2017, the Cubs had to go out and trade another young player, Jorge Soler, for a closer, Wade Davis. Subsequently, they sent Jaime Candelario and Isaac Paredes to Detroit for Wilson.

    If I’m right in thinking that Cubs have traded Castro, or package of players, including Castro, for Miller in 2015, then the Cubs could have possibly held onto Gleyber Torres, Candelario, Soler, Paredes, and the others. They could have used them in their lineup or in deals for other players (Verlander?). To compound his mistakes Epstein shipped Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease across town for Jose Quintana. So Epstein can take bows for winning the Series in 2016, but the Cubs were not able to repeat largely because of his mistakes. If you look at all the transactions made by the Epstein-Hoyer regime, they grade out as average, and I’m being generous.

    This may not be a perfect analogy, but the Chapman deal makes me think of someone who never saved a penny, spent all his money on good times, and suddenly finds himself broke, looking at a lousy retirement. He can always say, “Gee, I had some good times.”

  3. John LaMantia

    Castro for Miller would never have happened. Castro was coming off his second below average year out of the previous three seasons. He had been benched during the season and bounced back to claim a job at second base after losing starting shortstop to Addison Russell. That was good enough to get Warren whom the Yanks were selling high on.

    The Cubs needed to unload the $40 million left on Starlin’s contract in order to pay Zobrist $56 million. Plus they had Baez and La Stella available as backup infielders.

    Also, you can’t keep every prospect. Soler has had his moments in MLB but overall he has not been a good nor durable player. He had a fairly hefty contract for a young player too and getting a year of prime Wade Davis was worth it. Candelario was blocked by Bryant and Rizzo. If they didn’t trade him, he would have ended up DFA’d.

    I’d agree with you that the Quintana trade was a mistake, but let’s face it: Theo liked to win auctions. Quintana was going to cost at least Eloy. Jimenez was at least a year away and blocked by both Schwarber and Heyward. What hurt was including Cease, their top pitching prospect at a time when they hadn’t developed any pitching.

    Overall, enjoy your memories of 2016. I can’t think of many things that produced so much pure joy as that World Series win. I think Theo and Jed made a legit attempt to extend Bryant, Baez, and Rizzo, but the timing and budget just wasn’t there. I also like what Jed has done so far. It may take a couple more years to be competitive as I don’t think they will be as lucky in their trades as they were in 2012-14 (Rizzo, Hendricks, Arrieta, etc.) but I think Jed has the patience and know-how to put a good team out there by 2024.

  4. Bennett Johnson

    “Enjoy(my) memories of 2016,” and, what, wait another 100, or so, years for the next World Series championship? Such is the lot in life for a Cubs fan, I suppose. I have followed the Cubbies since 1959, and the biggest reason they have been largely unsuccessful is weak leadership. The Epstein-Hoyer tandem was marginally better than Hendry as some of the others. Theo was given a baseball team, an owner with deep pockets, optimal draft selections and a patient fan base. It took him years to produce a winner, and he was not able to repeat, or even get close to repeating.

    Say what you will, but giving up Torres, Jiminez, Soler, Castro, Candelario, etc., for one and a half years of Chapman-Davis in the bullpen and a few years of Quintana in the rotation was a killer. If the “timing and budget” wasn’t there, it was Epstein’s fault for squandering money on players like Edwin Jackson and Jason Heyward, and missing on players like David Price and Justin Verlander, both of whom wanted to come to Chicago. Not resigning Castellanos and letting Schwarber go were mistakes that most Cub fans were against at the time.

    The Chapman deal exemplifies all that was right and wrong with the Epstein era in Chicago. I’m glad Theo is gone. So far, Jed has done pretty well. We’ll see what happens at the trade deadline and during the off-season, but I am not holding my breath.

    • Sam Berg

      if youre a cubs fan theres no way you can be mad at the chapman trade. The Quintana trade is a completely different story. That was the beginning of the end for the cubs run

  5. Bennett Johnson

    Hell yes, I’m mad about it. My point is that Theo boxed himself into a corner and had to make a terrible trade for Chapman. I think Hector Rondon was the closer going into 2016, if my memory serves me correctly. No way the Cubs were going to the World Series with him pitching 9th innings. I don’t know how many different ways to say this, but let me try one more time. After 2015, Yanks wanted Castro. Cubs had Baez and Russell to replace him. Yanks had not only Chapman, but Miller. Yanks eventually traded Miller to Cleveland (in the same league!) for C. Frazier and J. Sheffield. Cubs had better prospects: Torres, Jimenez, Cease, Soler, Candelario, etc. The same ones he eventually traded away for nothing, unless you count one year of W. Davis. If Theo packages one, or two, of them, with Castro for Miller, then Cubs are probably in the Series not just 2016, but also 2017, 2018. He also would have had the others to trade for a Verlander, who wanted to be a Cub. I know this so well, because at the time (fall of 2015) I kept wondering, why isn’t Theo going after Miller. For the record, Theo grabbed Miller from Florida when he was GM for Boston. That was a super deal for the Bosox. Miller had great peripherals before becoming a star.

    I may have to write a book about this to get it off my chest. But after 2015, Theo suddenly changed. No more Feldman for Arrieta and Strop or Rizzo for Cashner trades. Jason Hayward instead of Jon Lester signings. I also think he would have taken Mark Appel over Bryant in the 2013, if Houston had not selected him first. What bugs me the most is that people (like my neighbor from Boston) thinking that Theo is a genius! Probably the only two places he could have won a Series were Boston and Chicago, where there was money to spend and fans were patient, because they were used to losing.

    But, hey, the guy won two WS, and you can’t take that away from him, and I’m here posting on BTV. Ha!

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