It’s been a minute since we Cubs fans have so obsessively followed a trade season from the seller side, so I’ll forgive you – and myself! – for needing some context on how various types of trades have proceeded in the past. I was thinking about it this morning because of all the talk about what guys like Craig Kimbrel and Kris Bryant should cost in trade, and about which players are highly likely to be traded on the Cubs. Specifically, I’m wondering what the cost would be for a guy like Andrew Chafin, if the Cubs opted to make him available (which they almost certainly are).
Do we have any recent comps to guide us on (1) rental relievers, (2) who are in the midst of an excellent season, and (3) who are not just a one-year pop-up guy? That’s how I’d characterize Chafin, who is getting far better results this year than he ever has (thanks in large part to a dramatic uptick in the usage of his very good sinker), but who was pretty darn good in his career before this year, too. He is making just $2.75 million this year, with a mutual option for next year (which is unlikely to be picked up by Chafin, thus it’ll be a $500,000 buyout). So he’s a true rental with a very low salary.
Before you say it, I’ll note: you can’t really use last year’s trade of Chafin to the Cubs as a comp, both because of the pandemic season and because Chafin was injured at the time of the trade. This year marks an entirely different circumstance for both Chafin and the Cubs. For what it’s worth, Chafin went for a PTBNL, who was later identified as 20-year-old infielder Ronny Simon, a former IFA signing who isn’t doing too much at Low-A this year, and was in the “guy worth mentioning, but not worth ranking in the top 50 of the Diamondbacks’ deep farm system” when FanGraphs discussed them this spring.
In that case, let me start perusing the 2017 to 2019 trade seasons to see what we can come up with that matches the Chafin situation … and … welp, not a lotta great comps! There were good relievers having good years, but who came with multiple years of control, which completely changes the equation. There were bad relievers who were having great years, which can make the acquiring team wary. There were, of course, plenty of decent relievers who were having decent years, but Chafin is much better than that. And so on and so on.
On perusal, the closest – imperfect! – comps I could find for a theoretical Chafin deal, in reverse chronological order …
Daniel Hudson – The former many-teams righty had some good years in his career before he was sent to the Nationals to be part of their historic run, and was also having a good season before the trade. But the career numbers and the performance that season were not quite there with Chafin, so it’s really not a great fit. Hudson netted the Blue Jays a top 25-30 prospect in a mediocre system.
David Phelps – It’s a Cubs trade! Phelps, you’ll recall, had some very good years in his career, and was having a solid season before the trade to the Cubs a couple years ago. He wasn’t *quite* there with Chafin, though, and he was also coming back from an injury. That traded netted the Blue Jays Thomas Hatch, who was the Cubs’ top pick (third round) in 2016, and was a top 30-40 guy at the time.
Jake Diekman – The lefty had some decent years before his trade from the Royals to the A’s, though again, not on the level of Chafin. He was having one of those strong peripheral/poor results seasons when he was traded, ultimately netting the Royals two interesting, but not-top-30 prospects.
Zack Britton – He was Zach with an ‘h’ at the time of the trade, and he was also no longer necessarily the super-elite closer he’d come to be in the years before. You may remember he was trying to get over an Achilles injury in the run up to the deadline, and his performance that year was merely solid. Still not a great comp, because he was so freaking good before that year. Britton netted the Orioles a top ten system prospect (good Yankees system, too), a top 20 system prospect, and another interesting non-top-30 prospect.
Brandon Kintzler – It’s four years back, but this might be the best comp? Kintzler had consistently solid results and was having a great year when traded to the Nationals back in 2017 at the deadline. He was the Twins’ closer at the time, but I remember that deadline well, and he was kinda more being considered a great possible setup man. The Twins netted a top 15-ish prospect in a decent Nats system (at that time it was a much better system), plus $500K in IFA bonus pool money.
So, then, any takeaway here? Is this roughly the range you would’ve expected for a guy like Chafin? I think so. A quality prospect and another interesting prospect? No top 100 types, but maybe a guy or two that turn your head?
When it comes to trading Chafin, specifically, I do think it’s worth keeping 2022 in mind. No, I don’t think that the $5.25 million option is going to be the sweet spot from Chafin’s perspective, but obviously the Cubs liked him enough to re-sign him once before – might they not want the chance to do it again? I really like that he’s a guy who clearly was not reliant on sticky stuff, too, and his newly-increased sinker focus plays really well in this environment. I’d love to have him back with the Cubs in 2022, all else equal.
That is to say, holding onto Chafin – who is also really well-liked and fun, by the way – is not a zero value proposition. No, he’s almost certainly not going to get a qualifying offer, so it’s not THAT level of value, but it’s something. So you stack that against the possible trade return, which isn’t always that exciting for the good, non-closer relievers. I still tend to think Chafin is ultimately traded – and for a really good return, I suspect – but I’m just teeing it up that it’s not like not trading him is a disaster.