As the offseason chugs along, I’m seeing more and more people say that the Cubs got gypped in their big midseason trade last season that sent Gleyber Torres, their No.1 prospect, to the Yankees in exchange for flamethrowing reliever Aroldis Chapman. According to them, a couple months of Chapman wasn’t worth giving up an uber prospect in Torres, who’s now tearing it up with the Yankees. Phrases along the lines of “it’s a good deal now, but down the road…” and “Torres will be a superstar” are running rampant, and, frankly, it’s absolutely ridiculous to take Torres into account when deciding whether or not this was a good trade for the Cubs.
Teams have different midsets depending on the trade they’re making. A rebuilding team, for example, who’s offloading a veteran isn’t looking for a return piece who’ll immediately contribute. Moreover, a team on the cusp of a championship, like the Cubs were last season, is going to do whatever they feel is necessary in order to put their squad over the hump, which is exactly what they did. Now if the Cubs hadn’t won the World Series, of course we’d be looking at this trade differently, as they’d have gave up Torres with nothing to show for it.
But they didn’t lose the World Series. They won it, and to view the trade as anything other than a win for the Cubbies is ludicrous. While Chapman wasn’t perfect in the postseason, and did almost blow it in game 7 of the WS with three runs given up, the Cubs wouldn’t have won it all without him. Consider this: Hector Rondon, their closer before acquiring Chapman, hadn’t been the same since injuring his triceps in August. His performance from that month to the end of the season dipped dramatically to the tune of an 11.17 ERA, 19 hits and 4 home runs given up in only 9.2 innings. Whether that was because his injury lingered or he just hit a snag we’ll never know, but the point is he’d become unreliable. Pedro Strop, the other Cub set-up man/closer wasn’t faring any better. Although the 31-year-old did post better numbers, he too suffered an injury in August, tearing the meniscus in his left knee on Aug. 10. Then, on Aug. 31, he strained his right groin while working out, shelving him until late September. What it all boils down to is who would you rather have pitching in the tensest moments of the postseason, when your season is on the line: injured/struggling Rondon and Strop or Chapman? Of course it’s the latter. The argument of “well Chapman didn’t do so good in the playoffs” is irrelevant because Rondon and Strop probably wouldn’t have done any better. Neither of those pitchers in their struggling status could’ve given the Cubs multiple innings of spotless relief, and while the rub will probably always be that Chapman blew three saves during the playoffs, people tend to forget his many scoreless outings. Remember his eight out save up one run against the Indians in the MUST-WIN World Series game 5? Or what about game 4 of the NLDS, when, after that classic four-run comeback, Chapman struck out three straight batters to clinch the series against the Giants? And, oh yeah, immediately after giving up that game-tying homer to Rajai Davis, the emotional Chapman went back out there in the 9th and got three straight outs against the meat of the Cleveland Indians’ order, preserving the tie that eventually led to a World Series title.
On the other side of the coin, no one’s denying Torres’ talent. The shortstop had a breakout year in 2015 in A-ball, displaying the ability to hit for average and power while also showing an advanced batting eye and decent speed. Coming into the 2016 season he was heralded by many as the team’s top overall prospect. While it’s understandable to feel some disappointment when a player of that caliber is traded, in Torres’ case a few things must be considered. The first thing is, if/when Torres reached the majors where would they play him? Slated to be either a SS or 2B moving forward, those are positions that the Cubs are well-endowed in currently at the big league level. The team already has a pair of young middle infielders in Addison Russell and Javier Baez, and it’s not like they’re scrubs either. Both have high power for middle infielders and both are out-of-this-world, Gold Glove-potential defenders, capable of fielding any and every ball hit their way. While Torres could certainly surpass these two, the chance that he takes a spot away from them are slim, especially when you take into account that both won’t be free agents until 2022, assuming they pass through arbitration. Another thing to consider is that even though Torres is lighting it up in the minors, he still hasn’t played past Advanced A for a full season. The transition from Single-A to Double-A is often cited as the biggest jump in talent in the minors, and while the young prospect certainly has all the tools necessary to succeed at the major league level, there’s always the possibility those tools won’t show up at the higher levels, and ultimately, in the majors.
It’s always tough to see a highly-regarded prosepct leave. But what folks must understand is that Torres is just that – a prospect. There’s no guarantee he’ll be the superstar that many believe he’ll become, and throw in the fact that he’s still not quite close to being MLB-ready (at least two years if he continues his positive development) and he was roadblocked in Chicago and it’s the perfect reason to trade him away while his stock is high. The Cubs were World Series contenders for the first time in years and needed to shore up their bullpen for the playoffs. Hindsight is always 20/20, but imagine if the Cubs hadn’t traded for Chapman while Rondon and Strop got injured. The back end of their bullpen would’ve been a clear weakness and the playoffs would’ve been completely different.
But they did trade for Chapman. And he was a big reason why the Cubs ended their 108-year drought without a world championship. And that should be all that matters.