The New York Yankees signed free agent closer Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night to a lucrative five-year deal worth $86 million, fully equipped with a three-year full no-trade clause with an option after year three of the deal. Chapman was outstanding during his first stint with the Yankees, recording 20 saves while using his uncanny 105-mph fastball to strike out 44 in 33.1 innings. He fell off a bit towards the end of the Cubs’ historic World Series run, but that was likely due to his abnormal workload as manager Joe Maddon continuously turned to his most reliable bullpen presence in high-pressure situations.
The Yankees’ bullpen depth was certainly in question after moving Chapman and Andrew Miller at the trade deadline, replacing them with former Yankees Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard, who weren’t bad for the Yanks in 2016 but weren’t quite the electric arms of Chapman and Miller.
Still, was signing Chapman really necessary for the Yankees? Looking at the state of the team even with Chapman, they are in the process of a rebuild and originally unloaded Chapman to revamp the farm system and develop their youngsters to gear up for a World Series chase in the coming years. After all the effort put into changing the culture in New York from a money spending machine to a more practical approach to building a franchise, is Chapman’s return a step in the right direction or a step backward from a culture that took so much work to finally implement?
Let’s take another look at Chapman’s contract and where the Yankees stand in terms of the AL East. The signing comes just one day after the rival Red Sox acquired lefty ace Chris Sale, cementing them as the favorites in the division for 2017, and possibly the favorite in the American League. Does adding Chapman make the Yankees any kind of threat to Boston in the division? It doesn’t seem like it.
With the farm system as stocked as it is, and with the promising young talent that the Yankees showcased last season (mainly Gary Sanchez), you can argue that 2017 and likely 2018 will be years for the Yankees to develop their new core of young talent and prepare for a major run at their 28th World Series championship around 2019, when the coveted free agent class becomes available to compliment their home-grown talent. By that time, Chapman will be over 30 years of age and still with two years remaining on his deal. If the Yankees were looking to make a run this season or even next season, I could see this move making sense from a baseball standpoint (ethically, it is an entirely different story). Why spend the money on a closer who is meant to preserve wins that could be difficult to come by for the Yankees this season?
Outside of Masahiro Tanaka, who knows what to expect from the Yankees’ starting rotation this season. Will they be able to build or keep a lead by the time it’s Chapman’s turn to take the mound? And what about the offense? How many runs can we actually expect this team to score? Matt Holliday was a solid signing because he arrives on a one-year deal to try and hold the offense over with his usual 20 or so home runs, but most of the offense that guided the 2015 Yankees to the playoffs is gone, and have been replaced by young pieces who will still be trying to cement themselves in the major leagues. A closer with $86 million attached to him just doesn’t seem like a major team need right now, and goes completely against the grain of what Brian Cashman and the Yankees have been doing since July.
This seems like a retreat to old habits. Hal Steinbrenner likely saw the Red Sox splurging this offseason and felt some unshakable craving to counter and show that they are still the bad boys with the deep pockets. It may just wind up hurting them in the end, and by the end I mean at the conclusion of Chapman’s contract, when the flamethrower will likely have lost one or two miles per hour on his fastball and will have trouble adjusting into a new type of pitcher since his fastball is his identity. The Yankees’ identity for so long has been reckless spenders, and despite working hard to change the status quo in the Bronx, it seems they still can’t quite fully shake their old ways.