The Chicago Cubs are scouting one of baseball’s best bullpens, and won’t wait around to improve a pitching staff that looks to be headed to the playoffs once again. The Yankees are their latest target, and there are three amazing options.
For the best team in baseball, perhaps process is a little more important than results. While the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen ranks 8th overall in ERA among the league with a 3.24 mark, the peripherals for three of their most-used relievers show that it may not continue. Travis Wood (4.40), Trevor Cahill (4.88) and Adam Warren (5.66) all carry FIPs more than two runs above their respective ERAs and Justin Grimm has been ineffective by all accounts, with a 5.57 ERA and already four home runs against.
Those four arms have been on the mound for 95 out of the 155.1 innings the Cubs bullpen has pitched, making late game situations a bit stressful for Chicago fans. While Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop have been fantastic, the team will need some more reliable arms if they are to continue the historic pace they’ve started the season on.
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Enter the Yankees, who as of Sunday had the third best bullpen in baseball (by FIP) and find themselves sitting at the .500 mark and 5.5 games behind in a tough AL East. Their three-headed monster of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances have been exquisite as expected, and on Sunday afternoon Cubs’ scout Jason Parks was in attendance to watch.
Chapman, the Yankees prized off-season acquisition faced a 30-game suspension to start the season following a domestic violence charge filed against him in the winter. The charge was eventually dropped due to insufficient evidence, and Chapman appealed the suspension, getting it reduced by a single game allowing him to return on May 9th. Since then he’s been his dominant self, limiting batters to a .208 average while issuing the fewest free passes of his career. He’ll be a free agent this summer, and if the Yankees don’t believe a reunion can be had with the tall left-hander, they may be looking to deal him sooner than later.
For Miller, this season has seen improvement in almost every aspect of his already impressive performance. His ERA and FIP have dropped more than a full run, and he’s issued just three walks while striking out a whopping 16.2 batters per nine innings. If it weren’t for the presence of Chapman, he’d be thought of as one of the leagues top closers, as he was last year when he recorded 36 saves and came 10th in the AL Cy Young voting. He’s under contract for another two seasons after this, but at what looks now like a bargain $9-million a season those years of control actually increase his value.
The least likely of the trio to be traded is Betances, as the 28-year old is still earning the league minimum and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2020. While his arbitration awards will probably be record-setting for relief arms, he seems almost untouchable as of now. After struggling to find consistency as a minor-league starter, the Yankees made the big right-hander a reliever and he immediately took to it, recording a 1.64 FIP (which only trailed Chapman, Miller and Wade Davis) in his rookie season. With two all-star appearances in two years, Betances was also on the Cy Young card last season, an almost unheard of accomplishment for a non-closing reliever.
The Cubs, set to make a splash in the relief market even at the cost of some of their young talent are expected to tell teams that Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez and prospect Willson Contreras are off limits, but have made Jorge Soler available in talks. After Albert Almora‘s hot start filling in for Soler as he nurses a hamstring injury, the under-performing outfielder may be the easiest youngster to deal from a Cubs perspective. After being listed as a top 50 prospect for three straight seasons, Soler hasn’t made the expected impact in the MLB, hitting just .258/.325/.421 in his short career including a .223/.322/.377 line in 2016.
As the Yankees continue to try and improve their youth and athleticism while retooling, Soler would be a big addition to an outfield that currently has an average age of 34. He’d be reunited with former Cub Starlin Castro, who was acquired this offseason for one of those under-performing relievers: Adam Warren. While Castro hasn’t exactly been an all-star for the Yankees, it should still prove noteworthy for the Cubs in future dealings; be careful trading young position players for relievers. Even the most seemingly reliable arms have a volatility to them that’s hard to predict.