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Yankees trade Aroldis Chapman: A signal of philosophy change from leadership

The Yankees have traded Aroldis Chapman for top prospect Gleyber Torres. I have some thoughts.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at New York Yankees
Former Cub Meets Future Cub
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to trade season. Earlier this morning, the New York Yankees agreed to send flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for top prospect Gleyber Torres, former Yankee Adam Warren, and outfield prospects Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. Andrew reported the story here, but let’s take a few minutes to share some initial reactions. Here are mine:

It’s hard not to love the deal for the Yankees

As a general rule of thumb, when you have the chance to trade a rental relief pitcher for a top prospect, you make that deal. When the return is a top prospect led package that also includes a former first round draft pick, a big league piece, and a lottery ticket outfielder, holy cow. You take that deal every single day of the week. That’s an MLB: The Show type of offer.

It doesn’t matter that Chapman has an 80-grade fastball. I don’t care that he has 20 saves on a Yankees team that probably isn’t going remain competitive down the stretch. A strong case could be made that he wasn’t even the best reliever on the team. Rental reliever for a four-piece package trades don’t present themselves that often, remember.

Torres fits right into the top prospect category. He’s a consensus top-50 talent. Baseball America ranked him as the 27th best prospect at the midseason point, while Baseball Prospectus listed him at number 34. He plays a quality shortstop, hits for average, and has 15 home run potential. Plus, he’s only 19 years old. That’s two years younger than Jorge Mateo at the same level. Torres is really, really good.

I’ve seen a lot of concerns that the Yankees made a mistake because they already have depth at shortstop. If you are questioning this trade because of the return, I have two pieces of advice. First, take a deep breath for a second, then read Jason’s piece on the matter. I won’t belabor the point, but he did a great job explaining why depth at shortstop isn’t a bad thing.

Chapman for Torres on his own is a great deal for the Yankees from a prospect position, but it doesn’t stop there. McKinney was a first round draft pick in 2013 by the Oakland A’s. He came over to the Cubs with Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija trade. He’s had a rough season at the plate this year, but as a third piece in the trade? That’s incredible. I don’t know a whole lot about Crawford, but from what I’ve read he’s a lottery ticket. He’s a toolsy center fielder who could be a legitimate prospect if his bat comes around. I’m shocked that people actually question Cashman’s job effectiveness. Once again he has shown that he’s one of baseball’s top traders.

Oh, and one last thing on the return. I’m one of the high men on Adam Warren. I think he’s demonstrated himself as a capable big leaguer from 2013 - 2015. I know he’s having a miserable season thus far, pitching to a 5.91 ERA (5.83 FIP), but it’s not too difficult to imagine him returning to form with the Yankees. I’m optimistic that Larry Rothschild can work with him to get him back on track and pick right up where he left off before the trade to the Cubs. If nothing else, the Yankees have acquired a reclamation project telephone operator.

It signals a change in philosophy from the Yankees leadership

There was definitely some hand-wringing heading into this trade. I like to practice Zen Baseball. I try to enjoy the game and not get too worked up over it. Hal Steinbrenner, however, often makes that difficult. Repeatedly throughout the afternoon we heard that Steinbrenner wasn’t ready to commit to selling. Whether his indecisiveness was a ploy to drive up prices or an actual reservation, the reluctance fit into the typical Yankees narrative.

But here we are. The Yankees have traded away a legitimate asset for the first time since 1989. It’s hard not to wonder if this represents a shift in philosophy for the Yankees front office brass. For nearly two decades the Yankees have operated on a win at-all-costs mandate. Just as recently as 2013 and 2014, when the season prospects looked grim, the team added pieces at the deadline instead of selling.

The last few years have proved that incremental upgrades aren’t a substitute for proper roster construction.  The Yankees have been caught in mediocrity. Last year’s Wild Card run required several things to go right, namely revitalized years from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Relying on older players to contribute at highly productive levels is ridiculous. That’s why looking to the future is the prudent thing to do.

Does the Chapman trade mean that the Yankees are fully open for business? Probably not. For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman reports that the upper management team is waiting for the deadline to draw closer before making decisions on other moves. That said, I think that they should take advantage of the seller’s market. Why stop now? Let the dominoes fall. The Yankees have some attractive assets, namely Carlos Beltran, that can draw a nice return. I don’t believe that this team can continue their recent strand of success for much longer. They would be wise to continue to make moves.

The whole thing is still kind of icky

Let’s forget about baseball operations for a minute. The only reason that the Yankees have shiny new prospects is because they exploited a domestic violence incident. That’s pretty gross. When the news broke that Chapman was being investigated, several teams backed away, most notably the Dodgers who retracted their previously agreed upon offer. The Yankees, on the other hand, made a concerted effort to acquire him for essentially pennies on the dollar. And they admitted as much! The team publicly noted that the only reason they were able to acquire Chapman was because his stock fell so precipitously.

I know that no charges were filed. I get that Chapman served his suspension. But he never displayed any remorse for his actions. There are things that are bigger than baseball, and for these reasons I’ve found it difficult to fully get behind Chapman. It also was a particularly painful addition because the Yankees have so long prided themselves on high character. Makeup meant a lot to the Yankees, look at some of their recent draft classes. This venture was a complete anomaly and it reeked from the very beginning.

Now that he isn’t a Yankee anymore, I’m partially relieved. But these acquisitions will always be under the suspect conditions of the original Chapman trade. Let’s never do that again, okay Yankees?

Trades as significant as this one are complicated and take years to properly analyze. Those three points were just my initial reactions, the first things that popped into my head. Feelings and ideas are subject to change over time, but right now I’m fairly happy with the way this deal turned out. How about you? What are your initial reactions? Let us know in the comments section below.