Both the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs had the best records in their respective leagues on the morning of July 31. While both teams appeared destined to play late October baseball, the back end of their bullpens were anything but a sure thing. As it became apparent that the Yankees were not going to factor into the postseason race, both organizations called General Manager Brian Cashman in hopes of fortifying their ultimate weakness. Both teams were able to reach agreements in separate deals for the Yankees available left-handed closers and have now found themselves in an improbable match-up for the ultimate prize in baseball beginning on Tuesday night in Cleveland.
The movement began on July 25, when the Bombers shipped flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman and his expiring contract to the Cubs in exchange for shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, outfield prospects Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford and big-league reliever Adam Warren.
The 19-year old Torres was viewed as the centerpiece of this deal and the Yankees believe that he is their shortstop of the future. He was the top-prospect in the Cubs organization and was ranked as the number 27 prospect in the mid-season top 100 list by Baseball America in mid-July. He has the size and frame that could allow him to move over to third base if the Yankees opt to keep Jorge Mateo at shortstop.
In 125 games in High-A between Myrtle Beach and Tampa, Torres hit .270 with 11 homers, 66 RBI and 21 stolen bases and is the current Arizona Fall League batting leader at .429 after six games of action. He should begin next season at Double-A Trenton where he will get his first taste of the minor leagues upper-levels.
Meanwhile, the 28 year-old Chapman pitched 28 innings for the Cubs down the stretch and struck-out 46 batters and surrendered just three earned runs while converting on 16 of 18 save opportunities.
Chapman recorded a save in each of the Cubs three NLDS victories over the San Francisco Giants and was on the mound to close out the teams 5-0 National League pennant clinching victory over the Dodgers at Wrigley Field on Saturday night. The win ended a 71-year World Series appearance drought for the Cubs; to say the win was meaningful for a deprived fan base would be the understatement of the last seven decades.
Six days after Chapman was shipped to Wrigley, the Indians pulled the trigger on a deal that netted them southpaw Andrew Miller. The price tag on Miller was heftier than that of Chapman because he was signed to a contract through 2018 at a bargain rate of $9 million per season. Manager Terry Francona has long been praised for his use of the bullpen and Miller’s name was at the top of his wish list for a variety of reasons. He is versatile reliever; a closer who is satisfied with not closing, he can get both righties and lefties out while going multiple innings with ease, and he is viewed as the ultimate teammate in the clubhouse.
Indians President Chris Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff knew that 2016 could be their year and they opted to ship a plethora of very talented prospects to the Bronx to get a deal done. Miller headed to Cleveland in exchange for outfielder prospect Clint Frazier and pitching prospects Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. All four prospects are at the Double-A level or higher and possess the upside of an above average big leaguer.
The 22-year old Frazier was ranked as the number 21 prospect in all of baseball in the mid-season top-100 list by Baseball America and he helped lead Scranton to the Governors Cup and National Championship titles this past September. In 119 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Scranton, Frazier hit .263 with 15 homers and 55 RBI.
In addition to Frazier, the Yankees badly wanted Sheffield in any deal that they would potentially make with Cleveland. The Bombers had been scouting both players heavily in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. The 20-year old power lefty had pitched all season at High-A and even reached Double-A before his season came to a close. Sheffield was ranked at 67 in the Baseball America mid-season top-100 and proved to be dominant after coming over to the Yankees.
In five games with the Tampa Yankees, Sheffield went 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA and fanned 27 in 26 innings of work; opponents hit just .157 against him. The organization promoted him to Trenton for his final regular season start and he shutout the Reading Phillies, the best team in the Eastern League, over four innings. The lefty struggled with control in two postseason starts for the Thunder but the experience will prove to be valuable as he projects to be the team’s ace in 2017.
Both Heller and Feyereisen are above average relievers and have closer-caliber stuff in the back end of the bullpen. Heller spent a majority of his him after the trade in the big leagues while Feyereisen went 5-of-5 in save opportunities and struck out 78 batters in 58 innings of work for Trenton.
An argument could be made the Miller has been the best player in all of the 2016 postseason. He was named the MVP of the ALCS after throwing 11.2 shutout innings with 21 strikeouts in the playoffs for the Tribe. He has pitched at least two innings in four of his six appearances and has gone longer than one inning in every outing.
While Chapman and Miller have put their respective teams in prime position to end historic championship droughts, the Yankees hope that their choice to sell them off will put them in the very same boat in the very near future.