Entering play on Monday, the Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball. They had the best record -- they are MLB's only team with a .600 winning percentage -- two elite sluggers in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo who are both front-runners for the NL MVP award and a durable, experienced starting rotation with all five guys sporting ERAs below 3.80.
If they had a weakness, it was their bullpen. And even that is a liberal use of the word "weakness."
So, not surprisingly, Theo Epstein chose to address that very aspect one week away from the August 1 Trade Deadline. He did it in dramatic fashion, extracting one of the biggest fish on the trade market away from the New York Yankees in the form of closer Aroldis Chapman.
"I am excited about today's trade and look forward to joining the Chicago Cubs and meeting my new teammates," Chapman said in a statement. "It is a privilege to wear the Cubs uniform and to play for the fans of Chicago."
Entering play Tuesday, the Cubs still have the best team in baseball and a dynamic core of young talent. Now, though, they also have the best closer in baseball. No longer are the Cubs the favorites to win the World Series. They are the overwhelming favorites.
As the saying goes, the rich get richer.
The fact that the Cubs were already the favorites to win the World Series didn't matter. Epstein was still willing to trade an enormous package consisting of four players-- including their top prospect, shortstop Gleyber Torres, and No. 5 prospect, outfielder Billy McKinney -- for a few months of a closer who will be a free agent after this season.
But not all closers are created equal; for a player of Chapman's caliber, it is not at all surprising that his price was so high. There's simply no other way to put it: Chapman is a freak of nature. The 28-year-old Cuban lefty has thrown 1,513 pitches that have been clocked at 100 mph or more since 2010. Not only is that the most in baseball, it is more than the next 18 on the list combined.
His arm has been even more electric this season. His average fastball velocity so far in 2016? 100 mph. That's a full two mph faster than the next-closest player. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he has already thrown 44 pitches that have been recorded at 103 mph or faster, which is 16 more than he has thrown in any of his previous seasons.
Chapman has also translated that blistering velocity into incredible dominance. His career K/9 of 15.2 is the highest in MLB history of anyone with a minimum of 250 innings pitched, and he has been one of the best closers in the game since he saved 38 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 2012.
That long track record of excellence is likely a big reason why the Cubs chose to overlook Chapman's off-field troubles in the past. Last October he allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired eight gunshots in his garage, which earned him a 30-game suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy.
"We understand there will be lots of different perspectives on this, but we have strong feelings about this," Epstein told reporters Monday after the trade was consummated, via Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. "People will feel differently about that. We understand that and respect it.
"But in the end ... we decided it was appropriate to trade for a player who has accepted his discipline, already has been disciplined by MLB, has expressed his sorrow and regret for the incident."
Said Chapman, "I regret that I did not exercise better judgment and for that I am truly sorry. Looking back, I feel I have learned from this matter and have grown as a person. My girlfriend and I have worked hard to strengthen our relationship, to raise our daughter together, and would appreciate the opportunity to move forward without revisiting an event we consider part of our past."
So, we know that Chapman is an awesome pitcher and we have also been told why the Cubs believe in him despite his checkered past. But the bigger question is: how will he help the Cubs and why did they think they needed him?
First and foremost, he bolsters a bullpen that has struggled of late. Chicago's bullpen has been less effective with each passing month. In July, it has pitched to the tune of a 4.64 ERA -- 24th in MLB -- and blown three saves. It seems that every team that plays deep into October has a solid back-end of the bullpen, which is why the Cubs felt they had to upgrade.
Now, Pedro Strop (2.87 ERA) or Carl Edwards (1.93) can pitch the seventh inning, former closer Hector Rondon (1.95 ERA, 18 saves) can pitch the eighth and Chapman can pitch the ninth. Maybe not quite as lethal as the three-headed monster the Yankees had in their bullpen for the first-half of this year (Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Chapman), but certainly good enough to hold its own.
The Cubs have also been playing plenty of one-run games this season and, per ESPN Stats & Info, they haven't had near as much success as last year. Once the postseason comes around, it is a given that they will play in close games, and the addition of Chapman can only help.
Chapman also adds a component to the Cubs' bullpen that it sorely needed: another left-handed reliever. Left-handed batters are hitting .412 against Clayton Richard and .304 against Justin Grimm. Travis Wood, another southpaw, has been the only middle reliever effective against lefties, and he has already pitched in 49 games, the fourth-most appearances in the league. All told, the Cubs left-handed relievers have allowed a .986 OPS in July.
Add Chapman to the mix, and manager Joe Maddon has yet another weapon at his disposal to get out tough lefties such as Bryce Harper, Brandon Belt and Daniel Murphy in October when all outs are crucial.
All told, trading for Chapman does not promise the Cubs a championship. Nothing in the postseason is guaranteed, after all. But what the acquisition of an elite closer does do is give them another tool in the tool box, bolster the team's only resemblance of a weakness and add someone to the roster with the capability to record the toughest outs in the late innings of the games that matter most.
Chapman cannot singlehandedly put an end to the infamous Curse of the Billy Goat, but you can bet that he will be a vital part of the Cubs' quest to bring a championship home to the north side of Chicago for the first time since 1908. And if that does happen, don't be surprised if their big deadline acquisition is the one to record the final three outs.