Few players are more obvious trade candidates than Aroldis Chapman. The star reliever is on a one-year contract for a Royals club that dropped to 18-44 after being swept by the Marlins this week. Barring injury, it’s a virtual lock Chapman won’t finish the season in Kansas City.
Clubs were expressing trade interest in the resurgent southpaw as early as the second week of May. Now that the calendar has flipped to June, a deal figures to come together at some point within the next seven weeks. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reports that K.C. is open to a few different possibilities in a potential trade.
According to Rosenthal, the Royals are letting interested teams know they’re willing to move Chapman early in trade season if another club meets a higher ask on the prospect return. That’s an understandable tack considering the Royals’ playoff hopes have already evaporated, even in an AL Central that doesn’t have a single club with a winning record.
An openness to dealing Chapman in June a) reduces the odds of an intervening injury that torpedoes the Royals’ ability to get a deal done and b) ostensibly makes him a more appealing target for other teams. Getting three-plus months of Chapman’s services as opposed to just two months after the deadline would be an added boost for a contender.
That’s not to say a deal will actually come together imminently. Even teams that are locks to sell tend to wait to move their most notable trade candidates until the deadline is nigh. The Royals know the direction they’ll take, but many other clubs toward the middle of the standings don’t have that kind of clarity. They might not be eager to jump into the market for a rental reliever right now but could be viable suitors closer to the deadline.
Kansas City has made some early seller trades in past summers — they dealt Carlos Santana to the Mariners in late June last season and reportedly began shopping Andrew Benintendi around the same time, for instance — but they’ll have to be quite impressed with another club’s offer to move Chapman soon. The seven-time All-Star can veto any trade until June 15, an automatic CBA right afforded to all major league free agents who sign an MLB deal the preceding offseason.
Rosenthal also writes that K.C. has expressed an openness to including Chapman in a package deal with other players from the major league roster. The most straightforward candidate for such a move would be closer Scott Barlow, who’s perhaps the organization’s most valuable plausible trade chip. Barlow posted a sub-2.50 ERA over 70+ innings in both 2021 and ’22. He’s carrying a 3.52 mark through 23 frames this year but striking out a personal-high 35.1% of opposing hitters. Barlow is making $5.3MM this season and controllable via arbitration for one more year.
That extra control year affords K.C. more flexibility to hold onto Barlow than they have with Chapman. The latter signed a one-year, $3.75MM guarantee. He’s trending towards unlocking an additional $2.5MM in appearance incentives but a price tag a little north of $6MM is still eminently reasonable given his return to form.
Chapman carries a 2.95 ERA over 21 1/3 frames. His 38.5% strikeout percentage ranks sixth among relievers with 20+ innings. He’s in the top 15 in missing bats on a pitch-for-pitch basis. Chapman’s average fastball velocity is back above 99 MPH after dipping to the 97 MPH range during his final season with the Yankees. He’s doling out plenty of free passes (15.4% walk rate) but holding opponents to a .197/.319/.237 overall slash thanks to the whiffs and a complete lack of hard contact.
As is the case every summer, contending clubs will be active in ways to upgrade their bullpens. The Nationals and Tigers are reportedly getting calls on some of their relief arms, while K.C. general manager J.J. Picollo will find no shortage of interest in Chapman and Barlow. Keynan Middleton, Reynaldo López, Brad Hand, Mark Leiter Jr. and Chris Stratton are among the other relievers who might be available this summer.