Despite Aroldis Chapman’s success with the New York Yankees, he probably wouldn’t be on their team if they acquired Craig Kimbrel in 2015.
While the Yankees have been very happy with Chapman as their closer, they almost didn’t need to trade for him after the 2015 campaign. Before the 2015 trade deadline, New York fell just short of acquiring Craig Kimbrel from San Diego.
Based on multiple reports, the Yankees were unwilling to surrender any package that included Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird. At the time, all three of these players were considered top prospects within New York’s minor-league system.
Looking back almost five years later, it’s clear the Yankees made the right decision. However, it’s interesting to think about how things would’ve played out if New York did pull the trigger on a trade for Kimbrel in 2015.
During the 2015 campaign, the back end of the bullpen consisted of Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson, and Chasen Shreve. Based on the pitchers above, adding Kimbrel to this group would’ve provided New York with one of the best bullpens throughout the major leagues.
Miller, who saved 36 games and produced a 2.04 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 2.06 xFIP, 0.86 WHIP, .149 OPP AVG, 40.6% strikeout rate, 8.1% walk rate, 12.5% HR/FB rate and a 2.0 fWAR rating as New York’s closer in 2015, would’ve likely been moved into a setup role if the team had acquired Kimbrel.
In comparison, Kimbrel recorded 39 saves and created a 2.58 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 2.46 xFIP, 1.04 WHIP, .185 OPP AVG, 36.4% strikeout rate, 9.2% walk rate, 13.6% HR/FB rate along with a 1.3 fWAR rating as the Padres’ closer during the 2015 campaign.
If paired together, the tandem of Miller and Kimbrel would’ve likely been unstoppable. Although, adding the shutdown righty probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of New York’s season.
In 2015, the Yankees finished six games back of the Blue Jays for first in the American League East and were forced to host the Wild Card game. Since the Yankees’ offense lacked depth behind Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran, they failed to produce any runs against the Astros and were eliminated from the postseason.
Along with New York’s inconsistent offense, they also didn’t have enough All-Star talent within their starting rotation to win the division in 2015. Based on these factors, it seems like adding Kimbrel wouldn’t have solved all of New York’s glaring problems.
For the sake of this article, let’s say that general manager Brian Cashman sent a package of prospects to San Diego that included either Judge or Severino. If this occurred, then the last three seasons would’ve been extremely different for the Yankees.
During the 2017 campaign, both Judge and Severino generated the best performances of their respective careers and they helped lead New York back to the playoffs as well. Without one of them, the Yankees likely wouldn’t have been able to reach Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
As a rookie, Judge received 678 plate appearances and hit 52 home runs (AL rookie record), 114 RBI’s, .343 ISO, .357 BABIP, 18.7% walk rate, 45.3% hard-hit rate, 174 wRC+ score, 8.3 fWAR rating and a slashing line of .284/.422/.627/1.049 as well.
Based on these results, the Yankees’ offense would’ve likely struggled mightily without Judge’s presence in the middle of their lineup in 2017.
While the 27-year-old slugger has struggled to stay healthy since his rookie season, he’s still been a very productive hitter over the last two seasons. Since the 2018 campaign, the right-handed batter has produced 54 home runs, 122 RBIs, .258 ISO, .364 BABIP, 14.8% walk rate, 50.8% hard-hit rate, 146 wRC+ score, a combined 9.7 fWAR rating along with a slashing line of .276/.387/.534/.920.
The Yankees’ pitching staff would’ve likely performed very differently if Severino wasn’t their ace during the 2017 season. Over his 31 starts, the hard-throwing righty created a 2.98 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 3.04 xFIP, 1.04 WHIP, .207 OPP AVG, 29.4% strikeout rate, 6.5% walk rate, 14% HR/FB rate and a 5.6 fWAR rating.
Even though Severino will miss all of this season because of his Tommy John surgery, he’s become such an integral part of New York’s starting rotation. Without him, their pitching staff would’ve likely continued struggling to keep runs off the scoreboard in recent years.
Along with Judge and Severino, there’s also no guarantee that Gleyber Torres would be on New York’s roster if they completed the trade for Kimbrel.
During the 2016 campaign, the Cubs were extremely desperate to find a closer for their bullpen. Since the Yankees were retooling their roster and with Chapman set to become a free agent, they were in a position to trade him to the highest bidder. Among the four players they acquired from Chicago, Torres was the centerpiece in the return for Chapman.
If the Yankees acquired Kimbrel, they wouldn’t have needed to trade for Chapman in the winter of 2015. Instead, the Reds could’ve dealt him to someone else, which would’ve almost certainly eliminated the chance of Torres joining the Yankees.
The trickle-down effect that this trade could’ve had on the Yankees is truly amazing. Luckily for New York, Cashman decided against sacrificing some of their top prospects for one of the best closers in this era.
Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see if the Yankees’ general manager continues with this mindset as his team looks to capture their first World Series Championship since 2009.