Measuring Aroldis Chapman's trade value as Pirates weather slump

The reliever's up-and-down season could still pay dividends as the trade deadline approaches.
New York Mets v Pittsburgh Pirates
New York Mets v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

The Pirates dropped the first series of July against key competition in the NL Wild Card race in the St. Louis Cardinals, and their weekend at home with the Mets didn't look much better. The rotation continues to be plagued by injuries, and the offense can’t seem to decide whether to be world beaters or weak links. The time is quickly approaching for the Pirates to engage in the trade market, and Aroldis Chapman could be the first piece to go.

Chapman’s collapse against the Mets on Sunday was the latest dip in a roller coaster season. The Pirates brought the fireballer in as yet another cog in what promised to be a “top-three bullpen” in 2024. Injuries to key pieces, such as David Bednar, and the need for bullpen days to spell the rotation have resulted in one of the worst reliever corps performances in the majors. Pittsburgh’s bullpen holds the fourth-worst ERA in MLB and the fourth-worst BB/9 in the NL. Chapman is a significant part of this problem.

The Pirates should shop Aroldis Chapman, who could end up with a perennial contender or reunite with a former club.

Chapman’s strikeout rate, which has put him in position to make a run at Cooperstown, remains high, ranking in the 98th percentile, but the same fastball that creates highlight reels has created hiccups this season. In 2023, his heater had a plus-8 run value; that number has dropped to minus-6 due to his poor control. His walk rate is 20.7 percent, worst among MLB pitchers with 150 batters faced.

Still, Chapman could bring value on the trade market if the Pirates choose to sell. The Royals dealt the lefty at the deadline last season, and he played a crucial role in the Rangers’ World Series run, earning six holds in the 2023 postseason. That trade netted Kansas City a former first-rounder, Cole Ragans, who earned his first All-Star nod this week. The Pirates should not expect the same return for the 2024 version of Chapman.

The Royals could be interested in a reunion with Chapman, though. Kansas City is in the mix of the AL Wild Card race, but their bullpen could use more power. Their relievers have the third-worst K/9 rate in the Majors. The Pirates need outfield depth in their farm system, but it’s unlikely the Royals will part with Gavin Cross. Javier Vaz, though, could be an enticing target due to his ability to play multiple positions. The Dodgers, too, will likely be shopping for bullpen help. A deal involving Kendall George would help the Pirates shore up their outfield depth down the line.

If the Pirates are able to get some value from Chapman and offset the liability he has been on the mound, they should pursue those avenues. As the season takes a downturn, the space in the bullpen could give big-league opportunities to Pittsburgh’s fleet of pitching prospects as the Pirates plan for the future.