Blue Jays trade rumors: Aroldis Chapman an elite target


The Cuban Missile: Albertin Aroldis Chapman

The Toronto Blue Jays have loved Aroldis Chapman since he became eligible to come into the MLB after defecting from Cuba. Under the direction of the newly minted Jays GM, Alex Anthopoulos, they reportedly bid $23 million for his services which was second best and $8 million more than what the Boston Red Sox bid. They were ultimately $7.25 million short as the Reds won the bidding with a $30.25 million deal over six years. That contract will end following the 2016 season, which is why he’s now being considered as trade bait for a struggling Reds franchise.

Oct 2, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher

Aroldis Chapman

(54) in the dugout before playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve always wondered whether the Jays would have won the bidding outright if they hadn’t just spent $10 million signing fellow Cuban defector Adeiny Hechavarria to a $10 million deal. The fact that they were willing to bid so highly on Chapman after spending that amount, however, is a reminder of how aggressive Alex Anthopoulos and his team were on the international market when he took over as Jays GM. We’ll never know if the Jays would have taken that $10 million and spent it on Chapman (who wasn’t available at the time of Hechavarria’s signing) but you have to believe that the Jays story in the pen would be a whole lot different than it has been over the past five years.

Remember that although Alex Anthopoulos is no longer with the Toronto Blue Jays, the majority of his team remains. These are many of the same guys that wanted to hand him $23 million without seeing him pitch in the MLB, so imagine how much they could value him now that he has dominated MLB for years.

Here we are, years past his emergence in the MLB, and the Reds have apparently decided that it’s time to place the best closer they’ve ever had on the trade block. The remaining contract of one season has to be the main reason, but the other is that the Reds realize without a competitive team to put on the field, they don’t really need a premium closer and are better served getting some long-term assets for him instead.

Rumours have already come out about which teams are going to be aggressive in seeking a trade for Chapman. They include the following: Boston, New York (both), Texas, Detroit, and Toronto. In Boston’s case, it’s at the background work stage, an indication of how serious they are. If anything, that should be huge motivation for the Jays to do their due diligence and act quickly if they plan on making a play for his services.


Before we move on, let’s take a look at what he’s accomplished thus far.

There’s an argument to be made that with Mariano Rivera being retired, Chapman has become the most dominant closer of this decade and is set to have a very successful career.


With Chapman as a potential trade piece for the Blue Jays, we have to consider the following elements:

  • He is 27 years old and will be 28 to begin the 2016 season
  • Aside from being hit by a line-drive and getting a metal plate inserted as a result, he has been a picture of health so far in his MLB career
  • He will be a FA in 2016, tempering his value UNLESS the Jays get permission to talk extension with him and get one completed successfully (something I believe would be crucial if a significant piece is dealt for him)
  • Projected to earn $12.9 million through his last year of Arbitration
  • Craig Kimbrel is currently the highest paid reliever in MLB at $11.25m, followed closely by Jonathan Papelbon at $11m
  • Chapman blew 3 save opportunities in 2015 (30 for 33), the same number as Roberto Osuna (20 for 23)
  • His SO/9 of 15.7 is well ahead of Kimbrel’s 13.2, his Hit/9 is slightly ahead at 5.8 vs 6.1, and his HR/9 of 0.4 is well ahead of Kimbrel’s 0.9
  • A back of the Jays pen of Brett Cecil, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and Aroldis Chapman would rival the depth and quality the Jays faced vs Kansas City in 2015. In fact, it likely exceeds it.

With all of these items in consideration, and the assumption that the Jays are either happy with having Chapman onboard for one season only OR are able to extend him, let’s evaluate what the Reds may be looking for in return.


When the San Diego Padres acquired Craig Kimbrel from the Atlanta Braves, the trade went down as follows:

This is a hard trade to evaluate because it had so many moving parts, particularly when it came down to contracts. Essentially, the Padres took on $52m in contracts and gave up one top-50 prospect and two lower prospects to get one of the two top closers in MLB.

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The obvious difference here is that Kimbrel was signed long-term (4 years) while Chapman is going to be a free agent in 2017. That has a lot of weight in terms of what the Reds can expect as a return. It’s evident that the pitching depth was what the Braves gained in this deal and it may be what the Reds are also looking for. However, with the haul they got in return for Cueto, there’s a chance that their focus will differ from that of the Braves.


On an encouraging note, the Reds and Jays are no strangers when it comes to getting deals done. In 2009, the two teams agreed to a deal that saw Scott Rolen and $4m head to Cincinnati while Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke, and Zach Stewart came over to Toronto.

On a sour note, when the Jays were looking to add some pitching this season, they took a look at Johnny Cueto and were told that Marcus Stroman was the initial piece the Reds wanted. If that’s an indication of what they’ll look for in value when dealing Chapman, the Jays would obviously be out.


The Reds are set to get younger in 2016. They have Jesse Winker and Yorman Rodriguez seemingly poised to take over corner outfield spots, which has allowed them to place Jay Bruce on the trade market (along with everyone else), and they have Robert Stephenson set to take over a rotation spot.  Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, and John Lamb were added when Johnny Cueto was traded, which really solidified the future of the Reds rotation.

The biggest weakness for the Reds is in the middle of the infield, where Blake Trahan and Alex Blandino represent the future, something which is a few years away. Brandon Phillips has been dropping off at 2B for a few years now, but he still holds some trade value if a team can afford to pay his salary ($13m in 2016 and $14m in 2017).

We all know Billy Hamilton is the lead off guy for the Reds and that Joey Votto and Todd Frazier represent the strength in the middle of the lineup. For now, let’s assume they’re not shopping Bruce and are happy to have him in the lineup or to use the young guys in tandem. What could the Jays provide the Reds which would make them better over the long term?

The answers are obvious and most fans hate hearing the top two of these names in trade talks:

In the case of Travis, it’s an easy fit since he’d take over from Brandon Phillips at 2B who would in turn become trade bait for the Reds or come to the Jays in return (most likely with some salary covered by the Reds). This would solidify their infield for years.

What we don’t know is how they value Dalton Pompey and whether they see him as a starter in 2016 and beyond, or as a piece that still has to prove he can take over in the OF.

And we really don’t know whether the Reds would accept a more easily digestible package of prospects, such as Sean Reid-Foley, another lower tiered pitching prospect and one of the hitting prospects listed above. Only time will tell. But with the Red Sox being heavily involved in negotiations for Chapman and their numerous outfielders, I would expect the Reds can acquire an MLB talent.


On the Jays end of the deal, they’d likely have a hard time sending many prospects over as they’ve traded so many over the last few years. That’s why trading Revere to the Reds in a deal for Chapman makes sense. It helps to balance the salaries and most feel Pompey can take over his role in LF. Pompey is an outstanding defensive outfielder, can easily share LF duties with Michael Saunders, and makes a great off-the-bench addition late in games when the Jays need to score a run.

The problem there is that, as I stated above, the Reds may want to make room for their 2 young – and cheaper – outfielders. Although,  if they can successfully deal Jay Bruce there would be room to do both and use one as a 4th outfielder.

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There’s no telling what a finalized deal would look like if the Jays did successfully acquire

Aroldis Chapman

– and possibly more – from the Reds. However, we do know the Reds are pushing hard to deal Chapman now, before his value gets any lower throughout the season. Keeping trade costs out of the picture for a second, if it were up to me, Chapman would become the Blue Jays closer for the foreseeable future.

On a purely financial basis, I truly believe that if the Jays were to offer him $60 million for 5 years as an extension ($12M AAV), he’d take it and the Jays would have the best closer in MLB for that period of time.

Forced to assess what the Jays could decide to do, I would lean towards them wanting to come to an agreement on an extension with Chapman before they deal any long-term pieces for him. And knowing that the Reds likely want some significant pieces for him in return, it only makes sense that they would allow a team to talk extension before getting a deal done. There’s also a chance that the Jays could ask for a starter as well if it helps balance the deal.

The budget is another aspect that will impact the Jays if a deal is struck with the Reds. If the Jays are able to acquire Chapman for prospects and he gets the expected $12.9m in arbitration, the Jays would be on the hook for approximately $123m in 2016. If the rumoured deal with Marco Estrada goes through and averages $12 million, the total would appear to be approximately $135m, leaving little room to add another pitcher this offseason. However, if the Jays can include a player making a significant amount, they can offset some of those costs and remain active in the free agent market.


As for Travis, the Jays are going to have to decide whether they want to use him as trade bait to get a valuable piece or two while they have others under contract, or whether they want to build the future of their team around him, Josh Donaldson, and Troy Tulowitzki as the strength of their infield.

Jul 11, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Toronto Blue Jays second basemen

Devon Travis

(29) throw to first is late against the Kansas City Royals during the second inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

If the Jays do send Devon Travis to the Reds, they could also acquire Brandon Phillips (and lots of money) as part of the return. I have a feeling that they – and most Jays fans – would rather keep Travis at 2B and find a way to acquire Chapman without sending him to Cincinnati, but there has to be value going their way.

For now, I’m very comfortable with Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Goins in the middle of the infield going forward, so including Devon Travis in a deal wouldn’t be a crushing blow to the Jays going forward, it would just be painful to watch him blossom in Cincinnati instead of in Toronto. What I would want, however, is for the Jays to sign Chapman in order to protect their investment agains the loss of Travis. If that can’t be done, and no other significant and controllable piece comes to Toronto, NO DEAL.

What I’d rather see, however, is the Jays find a way to trade for him without dealing Travis, as unlikely as that is.

The one way I’ve thought of them being able to pull this off is to make this a 3-way trade. For instance, if the Jays could deal Dalton Pompey to the Seattle Mariners and a prospect to the Reds, Mariners could send James Paxton and a prospect to the Reds, and the Jays get Chapman (signed to an extension).

Or, an even better scenario if you’re a fan of keeping Pompey over Revere (as I am) would be to make him the piece headed to Seattle. It’s never easy to complete three way deals, but I think that in this case, if the Jays really feel that they want to keep Travis as part of their future core, it may be the only way they can find the perfect fit.


Considering this as honestly as possible, it is tough to imagine Chapman and his agent deciding to forego testing the free agent market. However, there’s something to be said for security, and being from Cuba and already far away from home regardless of whether he’s in the U.S. or Canada, Chapman may actually be easier to entice to come North than others. He’s also aware of how much interest the Jays showed when he came over to MLB and how competitive they are, two ingredients that can’t be overlooked in his decision making.


I do want to touch on is the worst case scenario for the Jays – that the Boston Red Sox wind up trading for him instead. The Boston Red Sox have a potent team. If they significantly improve their pitching, there’s a good chance that they could become the Jays biggest foe in 2016. That doesn’t mean the Jays should “block” their possible acquisition of Chapman, but there’s something to be said for examining his value of both teams. The Jays have needed a top-notch closer for a long time and must see the value in having a strong pen after what they experienced in the playoffs in 2015.


There are so many relievers remaining on the market (Joakim Soria, Darren O’Day, Antonio Bastardo, ect..), and possibly in trade if Craig Kimbrel is also available, that it’s hard to ask the Jays to feel a sense of urgency in dealing for Aroldis Chapman. However, knowing how much they’ve always loved him in Toronto, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them work feverishly to make a trade for him happen. If they do and are able and willing to keep the majority of the rest of the pen as it was in 2015, perhaps adding one setup man, it may become one of the biggest strengths of the franchise for years to come.

The reason I believe Chapman stands above all other options at this point is simple: he’s the best. While a case could be made for Craig Kimbrel, Chapman’s velocity makes it easier to see him succeed in the AL when compared to Kimbrel. And once you get passed those two, the quality is 3rd tier on the FA market, and it could be hard to get anyone in trade from the 2nd tier.


I believe there’s a way to bring Aroldis Chapman to Toronto for the 2016 season and beyond. If they’re willing to make a long-term investment in his services, the Jays can make a strong bid for him. However, if they’re only interested in bringing him to Toronto for one season in hopes that he’ll sign with the team after 2016, the cost is likely too high to make sense. The Jays no longer have the depth of prospects required to make prospects the focus of their deals at this time.

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Having said that, I’m asking the Jays and Tony LaCava to make acquiring Aroldis Chapman their first move of the offseason. Everyone will remember it as the first step LaCava and Mark Shapiro took towards changing the fortunes of the Jays in 2016 for the better. The end of games would be secured, and the focus can then change to adding to the rotation.