Yesterday, the Cubs acquired the final couple of months of Aroldis Chapman‘s contract, adding the flamethrowing lefty to their bullpen for the stretch drive, but paying a high cost to win the bidding; shortstop Gleyber Torres is considered a top #25-#50 prospect in baseball, the kind of asset that is worth something like $40 million right now, and they had to throw in some sweeteners on top of that, including a big league pitcher was was worth +2 WAR just last year. Overall, the package of talent the Yankees received was probably worth around $50 million; that’s a staggering price for a rental.
In fact, I think it’s probably correct to say that the Cubs paid more for two months of Chapman than the Red Sox did for 2.5 years of Drew Pomeranz. And while this deal might prove to be an outlier in terms of deadline prices — the Cubs are somewhat uniquely positioned to overpay for relief help, given the strength of the rest of their roster, and how difficult it would have been for them to upgrade at another position — it also looks like a continuation of rising prices for relief pitchers.
Last winter, the Red Sox gave up a significant prospect package to acquire Craig Kimbrel from the Padres, and the Astros put together a five player combination for Ken Giles that the Phillies simply couldn’t turn down. Even the mid-tier relievers benefited, with seemingly every bullpen pitcher with a pulse landing a multi-year contract, and three year deals becoming standard for arms coming off strong seasons. With the game trending more towards shorter outings from starting pitchers and the Royals showing you can win a World Series with lousy starting pitching, teams have begun to alter their calculations on what relievers were worth.
But is this increasing emphasis on specialists an acknowledgment of the growing importance of bullpens, or simply an overreaction to the Royals winning the 2015 World Series on the backs of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Ryan Madson?