Royals reliever Aroldis Chapman has his fastball back up to triple digits, and could be a coveted asset at the trade deadline. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports the Royals are already having talks about the 35-year old lefty, and are giving suitors two options.
For now, the Royals are giving teams interested in Aroldis Chapman two options, according to sources briefed on their discussions who were granted anonymity so they could speak candidly:
• Part with a better prospect package to gain control of Chapman for nearly four months of the regular season, rather than the two months a team would get by acquiring him at the trade Aug. 1 deadline.
• Accept Chapman as part of a package with another Royals player, enabling Kansas City to shed payroll while ensuring a better return in a trade.
One club speculated that such a player could be All-Star catcher Salvador Perez, although Rosenthal dismisses that possibility, reasoning that reliever Scott Barlow would make more sense, although he still characterizes such a package as a “longshot.”
Chapman was signed to a one-year, $3.75 million deal for 2023 after a poor finish to last season. He has rebounded with a 2.95 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings. Several teams could be looking for relievers this summer, including the Diamondbacks, Braves, Mets, Yankees, Brewers, Rangers, and Blue Jays. Chapman would be a free agent at the end of the season, so moving him earlier would give a suitor more value. However, Chapman is an injury risk at his age, and a contender that acquires him now could lose him to injury in the next two months when they could have waited to see who was healthy come August. Teams that pull the trigger too early could also fall out of the pennant race, making a trade less worthwhile, although they could always flip Chapman again.
Packaging Chapman with another player is tricky for a couple reasons. First, it requires a suitor that needs two relievers. Most contenders have pretty good bullpens and may be interested in one more arm, but lack room for two. Second, the Royals would likely want to package a player with Chapman to increase their return, but it requires dealing with a team that is willing to give up top minor league talent. Teams may be more interested in dealing mid-tier prospects to get one reliever, than trade top-tier prospects to get two relievers.
A trade of Salvador Perez is difficult to imagine for a few reasons. First, big time catchers just aren’t traded that often, particularly not mid-season. Second, Salvador Perez is owed $44 million in the next two seasons after this one, and while he has aged well so far, he’ll be 34 next year. Teams may be reluctant to take on that kind of contract with his age unless the Royals eat some money. Third, Perez has what is called “10/5” rights for any veteran that has ten years of MLB experience, and the last five with the same club. Those rights allow him to veto any trade, so he’d have to be on board with any deal. Finally, trading a franchise player whose number might be retired at the K would further damage relations to the fanbase at a time when the club is trying to galvanize public support for a new ballpark.
Barlow makes a lot more sense as a valuable reliever who has been unaffected by a drop in velocity. The 30-year-old right-hander has a 3.52 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 23 innings this year, and is under club control through next year. On his own, he could be one of the more coveted relievers at the deadline.
Trading Chapman sooner rather than later makes sense for the Royals. Players that sign MLB contracts cannot be traded until June 15 of the season after signing, so they will have to at least wait until then. But the Royals have pulled the trigger early on before sending Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals in mid-June of 2018. That was under former general manager Dayton Moore, we’ll have to see how J.J. Picollo handles this trade deadline now that he’s in charge. Hopefully there won’t be too much consideration on shedding payroll, and the focus will be on maximizing the return to build up the organization and give them a chance to get back to contention someday.