The Chicago Cubs are coming off a historic World Series victory in 2016, erasing a 108-year drought. The team went head to head with the Cleveland Indians in a seven-game series that ended with one of the greatest game sevens in MLB history. There was a game-tying home run in the eight innings, a 17-minute rain delay, extra innings, and all around good baseball. And the Cubs would have not gotten to this far, let alone win the thing if not for their closer, Aroldis Chapman.
Chapman was acquired during the 2016 Trade Deadline from the New York Yankees in one of the biggest trades of the season. After being acquired, Chapman would go on to pitch 26 and a third innings in 28 games for the Cubbies. He struck out 46 men and had an ERA of 1.01 while saving 16 of 18 opportunities during the regular season. Then in the postseason, Chapman would go on to save four games over the course of 15 and two-thirds innings and 13 games, while striking out 21 batters.
On top of his dominant performance in the playoffs, it was clear Chapman was the only reliever that Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon trusted. In the final three games of the World Series, Chapman was used for more than one inning each time. This included game six where the Cubs had a comfortable lead late. Maddon had very little confidence in every other reliever in his pen, and Chapman was a crucial piece of the World Series puzzle.
So with all that said, many would simply say the Cubs should make Chapman their number one priority this winter. But not so fast. There are reasons to think otherwise, as the team can have success in 2017 and beyond even if Chapman ends up wearing a difference uniform.
First things first, Chapman is not going to come cheap. Craig Kimbrel is set to make 13 million dollars the next two years, and Chapman will easily top that annual salary. A four-year deal is a lock as the floor for Aroldis to go on top of that annual salary commitment. There will be plenty of teams in search of relief help, including the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, meaning re-signing the big lefty is not going to be easy. And his price can easily keep rising thanks to the competition.
Now lets touch back upon the idea that he is the only reliever Maddon trusted in the playoffs. That speaks to the level of the bullpen as a whole. Given how poor the entire unit is, it would be wiser to build the depth of the bullpen as opposed to handing one man a ton of money. The money that was given to Chapman could easily be given to two or three quality relievers.
The market as a whole for relief pitchers this winter is loaded. Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon are two other All-Star caliber closers who could be signed instead. Yes, both men will also be costly, but not quite at the Chapman level. If the Cubs could get either man plus one other decent arm for about the same money as Chapman, it should be a no-brainer. Then there is a name like Greg Holland, who was one of the best closers in baseball only a few seasons back before missing all of 2016 while recovering from Tommy John.
The team could also turn to the trade market for a guy like Wade Davis, who is also available. He is owed 10 million for one more year, which is clearly a much cheaper commitment than what Chapman would cost. Pair him with two guys from the free agent market such as Neftali Feliz and Daniel Hudson, and the whole unit will see an immense improvement.
With the team set for a very bright future, they need to be very conscience of who they hand big deals to. They already have major commitments with starting pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jason Heyward and have star first baseman locked into a team friendly deal. With so many young studs arriving on the scene, their prices are going to start to grow, and grow fast.
Kris Bryant is a must to lock down in the near future. Add in guys like Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Kyle Hendricks and Willson Contreras and the Cubs are going to be putting some serious money on the table in the coming years. Then factor in the fact that Jake Arrieta is set to be a free agent after the 2017 season, and that is another major decision that must be made.
So when all is said and done, Chapman does not necessarily need to be a must to re-sign this offseason if his price rises too high. The team has alternate options, and can certainly succeed in 2017 and beyond without him. The team needs to look ahead to its long-term future and decide if a big Chapman deal fits into that plan. It may not be the popular decision, but letting Chapman walk is certainly on the table. Most importantly, the Cubs can repeat as champs even if they decide to bring in a new closer and let their most dominant reliever leave.