What the Rangers and Royals Got in the Aroldis Chapman Trade

Aroldis Chapman of the Kansas City Royals

A week after the Mets sent Eduardo Escobar to Los Angeles, the Royals and Rangers make a significant trade. Aroldis Chapman, who was among the most intriguing trade chips this summer, is now a member of the Texas Rangers. Here’s a closer look at what both sides are getting.

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The Rangers’ Return

What a difference a year can make for a pitcher. After a disastrous season that saw Chapman lose his grip on the closer’s job in New York and then leaving the team before the ALDS, the 35-year-old inked a one-year deal with the Royals in January of this year.

I wrote at the time that the should Chapman regain his form and Kansas City was not in contention, the left-hander could be an obvious trade piece. Well, that happened.

Chapman’s four-seam velocity has averaged out at 99.4 MPH this season, the highest it’s been 2017. He isn’t using the fastball as much, at least compared to 2017-2019. But, he’s clearly found his form with the pitch and it’s shown up in the numbers. Chapman’s four-seamer possess an insane 38.7% Whiff% rate and his sinker — which has averaged at 101.3 MPH this season — sits at a 53.8% Whiff% rate.

Getting back to the sinker, one noticeable aspect about Chapman is that he’s using it more. The 35-year-old’s broken out the two-seamer 53 times (10.1%) this season, already 19 times more than last season. When commanded, it’s a devastating pitch, particularly against right-handers given its arm-side run and movement.

Chapman has struck out 53 batters over 29.1 IP and posted a 2.45 ERA. His 16.3 K/9 is second-best among relievers (min. 20 IP), with Felix Bautista the only reliever with a higher figure. The command hasn’t been great, but his stuff is among the best in terms of relievers.

The Royals’ Return

Left-hander Cole Ragans never fully developed into the rotation arm that the Rangers thought he would become when Texas selected him with the 30th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.

Ragans showcased plenty of hit-and-miss stuff in the Minors, most recently in 2022 when the 25-year-old struck out 113 over 94.2 Minor League innings last season. This year, Ragans has worked primarily out of the Rangers bullpen, aside from three starts in the Minors with Round Rock (AAA). With the Rangers, Ragans posted a 5.92 ERA and a 24:14 K:BB ratio over 24.1 IP.

The Royals seem to like Ragans’ pitch mix, which includes a fastball, cutter, changeup, and slider. His changeup paired well with his fastball, which ticked up to a 96.1 MPH mean average, four MPH higher than his four-seam average in the rotation last season.

Kansas City appears likely to stretch Ragans out in the Minors before summoning as a starter, but his stuff and command may profile better out of the pen long-term.

The Royals also netted Roni Cabrera, a 17-year-old 6′ 1” outfielder that Kansas City GM J.J. Piccolo lauded. Piccolo stated that his R&D department loved the “toolsy” outfielder and his batted ball data. While Cabrera is in the DSL, he has put up strong numbers thus far.

Through 16 games (54 AB), Cabrera hit .315/.464/.611 with a home run, six stolen bases, 10 runs batted in, and 11 extra base hits. The new Royals outfielder also owns an impressive 13:7 BB:K ratio.

The Verdict

It would be unwise to think that the Royals could replicate the return the Yankees got for Chapman back in 2016, when the Cubs sent Gleyber Torres and three other players to The Bronx for the high-octane reliever. Still, the return that the Royals got back isn’t the worst.

Kansas City received a high-upside outfielder that has yet to make it to the States, but all indicators point to a player that can get on-base and grow into his body and a lefty that could ultimately be the replacement for Chapman on the big league roster.

As for the Rangers, Texas gets another lefty to team with closer Will Smith and Brock Burke. The Rangers have struck gold with Smith this year, but also Josh Sborz and Grant Anderson, both of whom have pitched well in the Lone Star State this season.

Add Chapman to that core, and the Rangers now have a formidable bullpen that can give teams a bunch of different looks.

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