The Detroit Tigers took a major step in resurrecting their lifeless bullpen on Wednesday, acquiring closer Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers. By all accounts, the Tigers aren't done turning over a unit that was among the very worst in baseball in 2015, but common sense says that they will look for a couple less-heralded arms to fill out the roster.
Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman defies common sense. He's approximately 7'10 (okay, 6'4) with the limbs of a tarantula. His fastball is a Ferrari. He's a caricature of a pitcher who has a 1.90 ERA and 1.74 FIP over the past four seasons. The Reds, apparently able to resist that kid-with-magnifying-glass voice inside their heads, want to trade Chapman prior to this year's Winter Meetings.
According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Tigers have already balked at the asking price for Chapman. Given what little they spent on Rodriguez and Avila's renewed emphasis on those foreign objects called "prospects," ponying up for Chapman seems unlikely. Their pen needs help, though, and no pitcher takes that unit from "welp" to "let's just play eight innings and call this good" faster than Chapman.
Who is he?
Fittingly nicknamed the Cuban Missile, Chapman is arguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He has tallied over 15 strikeouts per nine innings in each of the past four seasons with a walk rate that reads something like "who cares?" He has allowed 169 hits in 319 career innings, and just 17 home runs. He has made four consecutive All-Star teams with at least 33 saves every year.
Most relevant to this discussion, however, is his contract. Chapman has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining and MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make $12.9 million. He will be a free agent following the 2016 season, at which he will undoubtedly make a record salary for a full-time reliever.
Why should we care?
We should care because Aroldis Chapman throws 103 miles per hour. We should care because Aroldis Chapman strikes out almost half of the batters he faces. We should care because Aroldis Chapman is a dragon.
There are any number of ridiculous stats I can cite about Chapman's abilities. Most ridiculous of all, though? On its list of fastest pitches thrown in 2015, MLB.com has an Aroldis Chapman filter. This picture was found in Webster's dictionary, under the definition of "unfair."
If anyone is going to break the Tigers' closer curse, it's the guy with a bazooka attached to his left shoulder.
Why should we stay away?
How much would you give up for one year of the most electrifying closer in baseball? Chapman has only converted 89 percent of save opportunities in his career, which seems low, but has been worth over 2.5 WAR per season over the past four years. FanGraphs tried to quantify what having an elite reliever means for a bullpen, though the actual hidden value is still hard to quantify. Trading for Chapman will cost actual prospects, not a middle infielder who might BABIP his way into a good year or two. The Tigers have been making this type of deal for years, and while one year of Chapman might be worth it in terms of WAR -- especially when you account for present vs. future value -- but it's a tough pill to swallow.
Will he end up in Detroit?
This move would make a lot more sense if this were 2014. The Tigers had their reasons for decline in 2015, but paying a premium for an elite reliever seems like exactly the type of move that could sentence the Tigers to a .500 finish next year. Putting a dragon on guard duty in front of your castle only makes sense if there is something valuable worth protecting inside, and the Tigers aren't quite at that point yet. They may get there this offseason -- it's still November, remember -- but this seems like working backward at best.