Monday Breakdown: Should the Nats Have Offered Top Prospect(s) for Chapman?
With the news that the Cubs will trade Gleyber Torres to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman, the internet has gone full internet. The trade was broken down and discussed from all angles before it was even official. Gleyber Torres is ranked 27th on the Baseball America mid-season prospect report. On the same report Lucas Giolito, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, and Reynaldo Lopez rank 4th, 5th, 13th, and 48th respectively.
The Nats are reluctant to part with the first three of those prospects along with starter Joe Ross who has a 3.56 ERA over 29 major league starts, and I don't disagree with them when the price is Chapman. Even without the domestic violence charge the Cubs are giving up too much if the deal is just for Chapman. He is one of the best closers in baseball but he is only a two month rental and would only pitch one inning of a game at a time and only when the team has a lead of three runs or less. Giving up Giolito, Turner, Robles, or Ross for that is too much.
That isn't to say a trade isn't out there that would see one of those players go but think younger and more controllable. The Nats have reached a strange position where their farm system is almost too good. Think back to the 90's and early 2000's Braves. Every single season they would trade a pitching prospect for a good major leaguer and it wasn't because that pitching prospect was good. It was because Glavin, Maddux, and Smoltz were good. There was a perception that the Braves were just rolling in pitching prospects despite the fact that Glavin was the only Braves prospect of those three.
Prospect rankings are a weird thing to begin with. The Nats have three players in the top fifteen and they don't have to part with any of them to get good players. Or at least they shouldn't have to. But radio analysts are always talking about how it is going to take a team's top two or three prospects for a player. There are thirty teams in the major leagues and only 10 of them have prospects in the top 15. It is a lot different for a team to ask for the Nationals top three prospects vs. asking for the Marlins top three prospects.
Would a team rather have the Marlins top prospect, 100th ranked Josh Naylor, or the Nationals fifth best prospect, 61st ranked Erick Fedde? If we're just going off prospect rankings then it's Fedde hands down but if we're going off of perception then there are a few that would want the number one overall prospect vs. the fifth best prospect. It would be like walking into the restaurant and instead of charging by a set price they charge for the top ranked bill in your wallet. One person could walk in and pay $1 for a sandwich and the next $100 for the same sandwich.
As the trade deadline nears I doubt the Nats give up Giolito, Turner, or Robles and probably not Ross and nor do they have to. The Nats have plenty of prospects below those and plenty that can compete with what other teams have or are willing to offer.
There are countless reasons for which the Washington Nationals are fully justified in their decision to steer clear of offering up Joe Ross and/or a top prospect in exchange for flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. On the business side is the fact that Chapman is, as Dave stated, a two-month rental; on the side more reflective of character, there’s the fact that Chapman started the year with a 30-game suspension for domestic violence.
I have "contributed" several long rants on social media about the various reasons the Nats needed to avoid Chapman. To start, Washington has tried this philosophy of acquiring a top-notch closer with one already on their roster, and everything seemingly went to hell, as we all know. Secondly, I too, am of the mindset that the Nats are so well-positioned in the Minors, so why should they give something up for what would essentially be a loaner?
But then, I’m reminded: forget 2012 and 2014, this is the year in which the Washington Nationals have to declare they are a “win now” team.
Never mind whether or not you’re of the “Clock is ticking on Bryce Harper” conspiracy camp. At 31 years old, Max Scherzer still dazzles, but you can place your bets on whether or not we've already seen him at his peak (I'd argue that, yes, we have). Six years since his debut, Stephen Strasburg is finally celebrating what's shaping up to be the best year of his career after starting the season 12-0. Add to that, Daniel Murphy’s performance this year – 127 hits, 30 doubles, 19 home runs and a .620 slugging percentage – has been an absolute surprise.
To break it down: the Nationals currently rank within the top five in the NL in home runs (2nd), total bases (4th), and slugging percentage (5th); as well as ERA (1st) and strikeouts (2nd). There's no telling of what they'll get out of Scherzer or Strasburg next year, or if it will hold a candle to their performances this year. Not to mention, Tanner Roark continues to be a reliable - if not vastly underrated - force in the starting rotation, in a year in which Gio Gonzalez has dropped eight of 14 decisions.
And, while the Nats aren't yet in "cruise control," with Miami just 4.5 games back, they've rested atop the NL East with a decent amount of comfort, even as relievers Felipe Rivero, Oliver Perez have disappointed.
But the Nats already have Papelbon? Sure, but, let it be known that, statistically speaking, Shawn Kelley has essentially matched Jonathan Papelbon’s performance this season. Through 37.2 innings pitched, Kelley has maintained a 3.11 ERA, while striking out 58 batters and walking just seven (an 8.29 SO/BB). Papelbon, on the other hand, has tossed 32.1 innings, while earning a 3.62 ERA and striking out 30 while walking 10.
That’s not to say that Kelley could replace Papelbon – rather, it illustrates that the Papelbon we’re seeing isn’t the untouchable Papelbon the Nats had hoped to acquire.
Will the loss of Chapman cost the Nationals the NL East? No, absolutely not. But, seeing that the Nats are a team with as close to unlimited resources as they will be – at least while armed with a roster this good – the Nats appeared unwilling to put any of their leading prospects on the table (and they have many, as Dave noted).
Having grown up in a town blessed with its own Double-A ball club, I tend to have a strong bias against trading young talent because, so often, I’ve seen how it bites the parent ball club in the rear years later. But, if ever there were a time that the Nats should have felt compelled to take a gamble on exchanging young talent for two months' worth of a closer unlike any other – let alone one on the market – this is the year. How many more years will the Nats get to say, with confidence, that they have a straightaway shot at the World Series?
Could a player like Chapman seal the deal? No. But, at the end of the day, you can’t say you’re all in if you’re still holding onto all your chips.