The Chicago Cubs are reportedly in the market for a new closer. That would seem to make sense, given the fact that above-average minor league starter Hector Rondon has served as the team’s closer the past two seasons. Rondon has not been bad at closer, but is far from elite. His peripheral numbers indicate a regression should be coming.
The Cubs may also be interested in acquiring a closer so as to slide Rondon down an inning. The team’s bullpen was so spotty for most of the season that retreads like Fernando Rodney and Trevor Cahill were brought in. You can never have too many options in your bullpen when forced to lean heavily on Pedro Strop.
So, the Cubs want a closer. But who will it be?
Aroldis Chapman, Ken Giles, Mark Melancon, and Andrew Miller are all on the block to a varying degree. Giles and Chapman are the two most likely to be traded before the start of the year. The Pittsburgh Pirates may trade their closer, but not to a division rival. The New York Yankees would be out of their mind to go through with a trade of Miller. That leaves Chapman and Giles.
Chapman has emerged as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. In his six seasons since arriving from Cuba, the left-hander has recorded 546 of his 947 outs via the strikeout. I’ll go ahead and do the math for you. Over 56% of the outs Chapman has recorded in Major League Baseball have come on a strikeout. Walks remain a bit of a problem for the 27-year-old, but not a huge one. Throwing 105 tends to minimize the impact of 4.4 walks per nine.
Chapman is on the radar of nearly every team that needs a closer. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals have both been linked to him in talks. Most teams who want to trade for Chapman will want to get a deal done this winter, as he is a free agent following the 2016 season. The Diamondbacks clearly consider themselves a contender, and it would be silly to try and wait until July to grab an elite closer. Same goes for the Nationals.
The Cubs do not have to be in desperation mode when it comes to trading for a closer, but the market may force their hand. The Houston Astros are also in the market for a closer, and have been linked to Giles and the Phillies. Giles is the pitcher the Cubs should make their number-one priority when targeting a closer.
If the Cubs were to trade for Aroldis Chapman, he would come with only one year guaranteed. Even if Chicago can find a way to re-sign him, the All-Star closer is likely to become the most expensive closer in the game. That’s why you go with Giles if you’re the Cubs.
The 25-year-old right-hander from New Mexico has pitched to a 1.56 ERA in his first 115.2 big-league innings while striking out 151 hitters. Giles got a taste of closing last year after the Jonathan Papelbon trade and acquitted himself well. He will not be eligible for arbitration until after the 2017 season and is not a free agent until 2021. A team trading for Giles will get five of the most valuable years of a relief pitcher’s career.
Giles is still young and under team control for five more seasons. For those reasons, he will not be a cheap piece to acquire. The Phillies may elect to hold onto him a little while longer. Giles’ value will only continue to rise, especially if he has another dominant season in his first crack at being the full-time closer. The Cubs will have to blow the Phillies away to get Giles, but it may be worth it in the long run. If Chicago is serious about getting a closer this winter, Ken Giles should be their number-one target.