Yankees acquire Aroldis Chapman from Reds
When the Yankees see a genuine superstar available at a bargain price, habit compels them to pull the trigger. That is exactly what they did with Aroldis Chapman, shipping four average prospects to Cincinnati and landing the game’s premier closer as off-field problems saw his stock plummet.
On a basic level, Brian Cashman landed the best reliever baseball has seen since Mariano Rivera. A hulking flamethrower, Chapman averages 100 mph in velocity and frequently reaches beyond that with apparent ease. Through six big league seasons, he has 146 saves, a 2.17 ERA, and an almost comical 15.4 strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio.
Moreover, Chapman is the only pitcher in baseball history to have four seasons with at least 30 saves and 100 strikeouts, which speaks to his thorough domination of hitters.
Aroldis Chapman faces possible domestic violence suspension
However, this deal is not without complexities and complications. Chapman is currently embroiled in allegations of domestic violence, and an MLB investigation may result in his suspension for a significant chunk of the 2016 season.
Somewhat perversely, the Yankees may even benefit from such a punishment, because Chapman’s free agency could be delayed for a year if he fails to log a certain amount of service time next season.
Nevertheless, that potential positive is surely outweighed by the public relations nightmare and clubhouse stigma of acquiring such a guy. At this point, we must stress that nothing has yet been proven, and that Chapman is innocent until proven guilty, but a delicate situation may soon arise for Yankees management, which must navigate a media market and cultural epoch understandably sensitive to these matters.
Brian Cashman and the dawning age of super bullpens
Without question, the Yankees have a new star in their midst. The 27-year old Chapman is a big name, an elite performer, a fitting steward of Rivera’s bullpen legacy. Since the retirement of Derek Jeter, the Bombers have lacked that icon, that prime-age, attention-grabbing star who will fill the stands. Watching Chapman pitch, oohing as he lights up the radar gun, is an event, and he will undoubtedly rekindle some energy at Yankee Stadium.
Perhaps more importantly for the Yankees, Chapman joins Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller in the creation of a monstrous trident lurking in the bullpen, a killer combination that will shorten games and break hearts. Of all major league relievers in 2015, those were the only three to notch 100 strikeouts. They combined to pitch 212 innings with 93 walks, 347 strikeouts and a 1.70 ERA. That is roughly equivalent to a Cy Young-winning starter, which is a neat way to close out games after the sixth inning.
Cashman has already stated his desire to keep the trio intact, even calling Miller to inform him of the Yankees’ plan. “I told him our intent is to retain all three players,” the general manager told MLB.com. “How it shakes out in the closer role going forward, that’s all for another day.”
Theoretically, Chapman would be the ideal ninth inning guy due to a wealth of experience and success. Likewise, Betances and Miller have performed well in setup duty, creating an ideal scenario. Of course, the Yankees have a starting rotation full of question marks, with concerns over health and declining performance, so the super bullpen will help quell those fears.
Any of the big three relievers may also be used for multiple innings, knowing that one of the other two could be rested for the next game, while Joe Girardi can also get creative and utilise his late-game aces in high-leverage situations early on. For instance, imagine a lefty slugger comes up with the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Yankees clinging to a lead. Being able to call upon Aroldis Chapman in such a situation, and still have elite arms primed for later in the night, is a genuine game-changer in the American League East. It gives the Yankees a weapon nobody else has.
Why did the Yankees trade for Aroldis Chapman?
In this regard, the acquisition of Chapman is not especially compatible with the Yankees’ stated rebuilding narrative of becoming more financially sustainable. Hal Steinbrenner wants to eventually get below the luxury tax threshold, and his mandate to remain frugal while albatross contracts wind down has been all-pervasive this winter. Cashman has been forced to thread the needle with smart and imaginative trades for young, high-upside players like Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks.
By comparison, the addition of Aroldis Chapman, an expensive closer one year from free agency, is more of a win-now move. Such elite rentals are usually made by a team with a pressing window for contention, and by their own subliminal admission, the Yankees are more in medium-term transition than immediate championship consideration. Therefore, this trade was a major surprise.
Nevertheless, Cashman could leave his roster untouched between now and April, and the Yankees would probably compete for a playoff berth. In one move, without selling the farm, killing the future or adding a ridiculous amount of payroll, he has greatly improved the team and further eased the bridge to 2019, when the Yankees are next likely to go all-in for World Series glory.
Ultimately, in Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees saw an opportunity that was too good to turn down. They saw a chance to add a sensational closer at a fraction of his true price, a price that detracts almost nothing from their long-term future. Even as they rebuild with an eye on the distant horizon, these are still the New York Yankees, and when such an opportunity presents itself, the team’s star-encrusted DNA takes precedence.
Sure, it is a gamble laden with pitfalls in a moral minefield, and that must never be trivialised. However, on the field at least, even in a relative down period of Yankees history, Brian Cashman may have just created the greatest bullpen of all-time. Just for one season, perhaps, but the greatest bullpen nevertheless. Whatever that means. Whatever that is worth, as the Yankees rummage for a new identity.
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Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!