Aroldis Chapman’s brief time in New York came to an end earlier this week when the Yankees shipped him to the Cubs for a pile of assets. Many of the after-effects were obvious; the Yankees extracted tons of value from the deal, and the trade seemed to signal a shift in organizational philosophy.
However, there is one person that has been singularly and dramatically affected by this deal: Andrew Miller. The Chapman trade was great news as far as his position on the team, as he immediately was slotted back into his deserved spot as closer. He made the transition from 8th inning man to closer swiftly and easily, notching saves in each of the first two games after Chapman’s departure.
Miller’s move back to closer feels long overdue. The Yankees as an organization have acted somewhat unfairly toward Miller, a player who has made sacrifices from the beginning for this team. Miller accepted a 4 year, $36 million contract with New York after the 2014 season, despite reports he may have had offers for $40 million.
After a superb 2015 as the Yankees’ closer, Miller then spent an offseason embroiled in trade rumors, as New York was rumored to be in discussions with teams like the Dodgers and Astros. A year after having potentially left more money on the table in order to sign with his desired team, the Yankees, Miller was being shopped to the very same teams he had decided against.
Of course, the Yankees then changed course, and bought low on Chapman. Miller was demoted to a setup role in spite of his 2015 dominance, and he handled the demotion with grace. He issued the expected quotes about being a good teammate and wanting to win, and then continued to dominate.
Miller being granted his closer role simply seems just. He accepted a lesser contract offer from the Yankees, only to see the team immediately shop him around the league, and subsequently demote him in favor of a closer entangled in a domestic violence incident. As one of the Yankees’ best and seemingly most loyal players, Miller’s place as the team’s closer is thoroughly deserved.
Now, aside from the matter of Miller’s role on the team, the Chapman trade is great news for his value to the team. The prospect price the Cubs paid to acquire Chapman was hefty. What Chicago gave up blows any other package for a reliever out of the water. The best recent example of a Chapman-esque trade actually involved Miller himself, when the Orioles acquired a half season of Miller in exchange for consensus top 100 prospect Eduardo Rodriguez in 2014. The Yankees received multiple times that in return for Chapman.
If the Chapman trade represents the new price for an ace reliever, that could mean wonders for Miller’s value. Miller is hands-down a more valuable asset than Chapman. Chapman will become a free agent this winter, while Miller is signed through 2018 at the modest cost of $9 million per year. Not only that, but Miller might just be a better player. Miller has raced past Chapman performance-wise this year (and that isn’t to slight Chapman’s performance, which was great). Miller’s K%, BB%, ERA, and FIP figures are all superior to Chapman’s in 2016.
If Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, Adam Warren, and Rashad Crawford are an accurate representation of the cost of a reliever rental, the value of an elite reliever under team control must be astronomical. It seemed rather laughable when it sounded like the Yankees wanted top prospects such as Lucas Giolito and Trea Turner when the Nationals demonstrated interest in relief help. After seeing what half a season of Chapman netted, the idea of Miller bringing back a super-prospect now seems to hold at least a little weight.
Still, it is difficult to discern if the Chapman deal truly set a new standard for the value of a top closer, or if it was simply an outlier. The Cubs’ situation is distinct, as there aren’t exactly many teams in possession of century long championship droughts that fans and ownership alike are desperate to end. Plus, the Cubs’ roster is nearly spotless, with an excellent left-handed reliever being possibly the only missing piece left. Perhaps the Chapman trade was merely a one-off, made possible by a unique confluence of events in Chicago.
Even so, it does seem like the value of dominant relief pitching is quickly trending upwards. Beyond the Chapman trade, relievers like Ken Giles and Craig Kimbrel were acquired at huge costs this past offseason. Every time an elite reliever is traded, it seems the cost is publicly deemed to be too steep. Thus, every time an elite reliever is traded, those of us outside of the game are forced to wonder if those in MLB front offices know something we don’t about an elite reliever’s worth.
The Chapman trade is the latest and most polarizing example of a deal that makes us wonder about the true value of the game’s best closers, and it can only mean good news for the Yankees and Andrew Miller. Miller finally gets his deserved closer title back, and the Yankees’ brass must feel elated at what the Chapman deal means about Miller’s price. And if rival teams deem Miller’s cost to be too high, the alternative scenario of continuing to watch Miller do his thing is just fine indeed.