Thoughts following the Aroldis Chapman trade

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees made their most significant trade in quite some time, sending four prospects to the Reds for Aroldis Chapman. It was a classic out of nowhere Yankees move. It looked like we were headed for another slow offseason day then BAM, Chapman’s a Yankee. Crazy. I have thoughts. Here they are.

1. I think it’s pretty gross the Yankees essentially used a domestic violence incident to buy low on a player. That’s how I feel. You’re welcome to feel differently. The Dodgers had a deal in place for Chapman earlier this offseason, then backed away when news of the incident got out. (Here’s the story if you haven’t seen it.) The Reds then dropped their asking price — Brian Cashman confirmed it during a conference call yesterday — and the Yankees swooped in. There are a lot of people out there whose lives have been impacted by domestic violence and I think turning a blind eye to it sends a very bad message. Pro sports teams — it’s not just baseball, it happens in every sport — have shown time and time again they will overlook stuff like this as long as the player is good enough. I’d like to think the Yankees hold themselves to higher standards but it’s clear they don’t. It’s one thing for a player to be a jerk and difficult to get along with. Allegations of domestic violence are much more serious. Not a good look, Yankees.

2. Joel Sherman said yesterday the Yankees expect Chapman to receive some kind of suspension under the league’s new domestic violence policy. It’s a brand new policy and no one has been suspended yet, so there’s no precedent or anything. Commissioner Rob Manfred could decide to make a big opening statement and hand down a long suspension, or it could be a little 10-15 game ban. Under the domestic violence policy, suspended players do not accrue service time, so a suspension lasting at least 46 days (give or take) would delay Chapman’s free agency another year. More importantly, the Yankees might not actually have their new lefty relief co-ace come Opening Day. There’s a lot of offseason left, so MLB is in no rush to make an announcement. It might be another month or two before we know what kind of suspension Chapman is looking at, if any.

3. The whole “focus on high-character players with good makeup and squeaky clean images” thing has gone out the window, huh? The Yankees have put a lot of emphasis on makeup in recent years — it extended down into the minors and the draft as well — but this offseason they’ve acquired Chapman and Starlin Castro despite their history of off-the-field issues. Even Aaron Hicks had a reputation for being a bit of a headache with the Twins. It almost seems like the Yankees have decided to focus on pure talent during this phase of their on-the-fly rebuild and worry about the clubhouse aspects later. Either that or they’re comfortable enough with the clubhouse that they feel they can bring in guys with some baggage and not have it be an issue. Just seems weird they were so focused on character guys for a few years and now have done a complete 180, and are targeting players with the exact opposite reputation.

4. As for the baseball aspect of the trade, it is pretty low risk for the Yankees. Worst case scenario is what, Chapman blows out his arm in Spring Training and never throws a pitch in pinstripes? That kind of risk exists with every pitcher. Chapman’s never had any serious arm problems — he did miss time with a sore shoulder five years ago when the Reds tried him in the rotation — and his injury risk is no greater than anyone else’s. The Yankees gave up two good but not great prospects (Eric Jagielo, Rookie Davis) and two throw-ins (Caleb Cotham, Tony Renda) for the most dominant reliever in baseball. They didn’t even give up someone off their big league roster. (I guess Cotham, but you know what I mean.) For even just one year of Chapman, that’s a bargain baseman price. If Chapman gets hurt, it would really suck, but the Yankees would not be out any significant prospects. More than likely, he’ll be overwhelmingly dominant, it’ll be a blast to watch, and the Yankees won’t miss anyone they traded to the Reds. From a pure baseball perspective, this is a fantastic trade for New York. They made out like bandits.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

5. Yes, adding Chapman makes it easier for the Yankees to trade Andrew Miller, but I don’t think this trade was made because the team has a Miller deal lined up. This was just an opportunity to get better on the field the Yankees couldn’t pass up given the price. Jeff Passan says the Yankees were “very, very close” to trading Miller to the Astros earlier this offseason, and I think Cashman would have moved Miller with or without Chapman. They might still trade Miller, there’s lots of offseason left, but I don’t think the motivation behind adding Chapman was to make Miller more expendable. Nah. The Yankees want to pair Chapman with Miller (and Dellin Betances), but if someone comes along and knocks their socks off with an offer, they’ll move Miller because, again, it will be an opportunity to get better.

6. This trade answers any questions about whether the Yankees want to contend next season. This is a win now deal. Chapman will be a free agent next offseason and yeah, the Yankees can slap the qualifying offer on him and get a draft pick, but that’s a minor consideration. (A supplemental first round pick isn’t worth that much.) The Yankees are trying to balance winning with rebuilding, and after making a series of moves focused on getting younger (Castro, Hicks, Didi Gregorius, etc.), this if the first no-doubt win now move the club has made since all those free agent signings during the 2013-14 offseason (Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, etc.). The Yankees want to win. They also want to get younger and more flexible long-term. Chapman addresses only the former.

7. With both Jagielo and Renda going to Cincinnati, the Yankees are going to have to look into bringing in some infielders on minor league contracts in the coming weeks. (They did sign Pete Kozma earlier this offseason.) Those two were slated to start at Triple-A Scranton, so they were upper level depth. Rob Refsnyder will likely start the season with the RailRiders, so he’ll be at second base, but they don’t have a third baseman now. Don’t expect a big name because again, we’re talking about Triple-A infielders, not someone who will push for playing time at the big league level. It’s going to be someone just trying to hang around and extend his career. Looking at the list of minor league free agents, someone like Conor Gillaspie could be a Triple-A third base candidate. The Yankees just need bodies to replace Jagielo and Renda now. They were thin on upper level infielders before and that is especially true now.

8. Last offseason I really had no idea who would close — I figured it would be Betances or Miller, I just wasn’t sure which one — but right now I’m almost certain Chapman will be the closer next year. He’s been doing it for a few years now and elite closers usually don’t lose the ninth inning until their lose effectiveness. Chapman hasn’t. Miller has only been with the team for a year too, so it’s not like Chapman is coming in and bumping a stalwart like Mariano Rivera from the closer’s role. (For what it’s worth, Cashman said he spoke to Miller before the trade was announced just to let him know it was going down.) Chapman will close while Betances and Miller raise hell in the seventh and eighth innings. Joe Girardi loves to assign his relievers specific innings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he matched up with those two, using Miller against the lefty heavy portions of the lineup and Betances against the righties. If that means Miller pitches the seventh inning some nights instead of the eighth, so be it. And, by the way, the Yankees are now in position to have their fifth different primary closer in five years. The post-Rivera era is weird.

9. I’m one of those people who thinks WAR underestimates — dramatically so, in some cases — the value of relievers, but humor me for a second. There’s a chance the Yankees can have three +2.5 WAR relievers in 2016. Betances managed 3.7 WAR in 2015, which is insane, while Chapman and Miller were at 2.7 and 2.2, respectively. (Miller missed a month with a forearm injury, remember.) All three getting to 2.5 WAR in 2016 isn’t far-fetched. Only three bullpens in history have had three +2.5 WAR relievers, and one was the 1982 Red Sox, back when bullpen usage was far different. (The three relievers all threw at least 102.1 innings.) The 2014 Royals and 1995 Rockies (???) also did it. That 1982 BoSox team is the only team in history with three +3.0 WAR relievers. The Yankees have an outside chance at that next year. By the way, the last team with two +3.0 WAR relievers? The 2011 Yankees with Mo and David Robertson. Imagine having Rivera and Robertson, and then adding another Robertson. That’s pretty much the 2016 Yankees.

10. Right now there are three open bullpen spots. Chapman, Miller, and Betances account for three of the seven spots and Ivan Nova will get one of the others unless he’s needed in the rotation. Nova could always be traded but I think the Yankees end up hanging on to him. He seems more valuable as rotation depth than anything the team could realistically get in return. Nova as the fourth relievers means there are three empty spots with no shortage of candidates. Chasen Shreve might have a leg up on everyone else given his first five months this past season, and then you have Jacob Lindgren, Bryan Mitchell, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Branden Pinder, and James Pazos. We could even throw Johnny Barbato and Luis Cessa into that mix. Never say never, but I would be surprised if the Yankees made another significant bullpen addition this offseason. They have the big three at the end, Nova as the long man, and then three spots for the kids.

Monday Night Open Thread

Remember when the Yankees were having a slow offseason? Good times. They swung their fourth trade of the winter earlier today, sending four non-top prospects to the Reds for Aroldis Chapman. I can’t say I saw this coming, but I don’t think it is completely surprising either. The Yankees tried to get Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline, so the idea of building a super bullpen has been in their mind for a while. The price on Chapman dropped and they struck. Brian Cashman‘s been buying low on dudes since last offseason. That’s his thing.

Anyway, this is your open thread for the evening. The Bengals and Broncos are the Monday Night Football Game, and you’ve also got the (hockey) Rangers, the Nets, and a bunch of college basketball tonight. Talk about those games or anything else here.

Yankees acquire Aroldis Chapman from Reds in five-player trade


The best end-game bullpen in baseball just got even better. The Yankees have acquired left-hander Aroldis Chapman from the Reds for four prospects, the team announced. Third baseman Eric Jagielo, righty Rookie Davis, righty Caleb Cotham, and second baseman Tony Renda are going to Cincinnati in the four-for-one swap. Both teams have announced the trade, so it’s a done deal. Official.

For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman confirmed the plan is add Chapman to Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to form a Murderer’s Throw (h/t @rileysteele11) bullpen, not trade someone away. “We completed this trade with the intent of having Chapman, Miller, and Betances as a real force in the back-end of the bullpen,” said the GM on a conference call with reporters.

Chapman, 27, is currently being investigated by MLB under the new domestic violence policy due to an incident that occurred in October. Tim Brown and Jeff Passan have the details. Long story short, Chapman’s girlfriend said he choked her and threw her against a wall during an argument. He also fired eight shots in the garage of his Miami home. No arrests were made.

Cashman said the Yankees did their “due diligence” before the trade and noted the Reds had “modified” their “price point” in recent weeks, meaning they lowered their asking price following the incident. The incident caused a deal that would have sent Chapman to the Dodgers to fall apart a few weeks ago. MLB is investigating and there’s a chance Chapman may be suspended.

Chapman is currently scheduled to become a free agent next offseason and a suspension of at least 46 days would delay his free agency another year. The domestic violence policy is new so no precedents have been set yet. We’ll see what happens. MLBTR projects Chapman to earn $12.9M through arbitration next year, so it’s a hefty salary by reliever standards, but it is only a one-year commitment. (For now, anyway.)

On the field, Chapman is the hardest thrower in baseball history and one of the most dominant relievers in the game. He used a fastball that averaged 100.4 mph (!) to post a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings this past season. That 41.7% strikeout rate was actually Chapman’s lowest since his rookie season in 2011. He’s struck out 45.0% of the batters he’s faced the last four seasons. That’s just bonkers.

For all intents and purposes, the trade is Chapman for Jagielo and Davis. Cotham and Renda are basically throw-ins. Cotham was a 27-year-old rookie this past season who was stuck in an organization with more upper level bullpen depth than they know what to do with. Renda, who came over from the Nationals in the David Carpenter trade this summer, is a light-hitting contact guy whose arm relegates him to second base. He went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft a few weeks ago.

Jagielo, 23, was New York’s first round pick in 2013 (26th overall) and is the best prospect in the trade, in my opinion. He hit .284/.347/.495 (141 wRC+) with nine homers in 58 Double-A games this past season before jamming his knee sliding into home plate in June and needing season-ending arthroscopic surgery. The knee and an oblique strain have limited Jagielo to 143 games the last two years.

The 22-year-old Davis broke out with High-A Tampa this past season, pitching to a 3.70 ERA (2.22 FIP) in 97.1 innings before a late-season bump to Double-A Trenton. He was the Yankees’ 14th round pick in 2011. Davis is a huge guy (listed at 6-foot-3 and 235 lbs.) with a mid-90s fastball and a curveball. He made significant strides with his command in 2015 and earned himself a spot on the 40-man roster after the season.

The Yankees traded away Justin Wilson and Adam Warren earlier this offseason and Chapman more than makes up for the loss of Wilson. The team does still need rotation help however, preferably someone they could rely on to soak up innings. Betances, Miller, and Chapman are a hell of a thing, but Joe Girardi doesn’t want to have to use them every single day either.

Incorporating Gary Sanchez and the need to reduce Brian McCann’s workload going forward

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Last month, when the Yankees shipped John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for Aaron Hicks, it created a clear path for Gary Sanchez to get Major League playing time. If not right away next season, then at some point in the near future. Murphy is no longer around representing an obstacle. A big league roster spot is Sanchez’s for the taking.

“I really like Gary Sanchez. I’m hopeful with his high-end ability he can be a big positive impact on (Joe Girardi‘s) lineup choices on a weekly basis, as he chooses when to rest (Brian McCann),” said Brian Cashman to reporters at the Winter Meetings earlier this month. “And we face so many left-handers that it’s nice to have that type of power bat. I’d like to unleash the Kraken — which is Gary Sanchez — on our roster in 2016 if I can, and see if he can do some real positive damage for us.”

Sanchez, who turned 23 earlier this month, had a big regular season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, putting up a 137 wRC+ with 18 homers. (He’s averaged 19 homers per 120 games in full season ball in his career.) He reportedly did some growing up and put himself in position to be a big league option. That definitely was not the case at this time last year. Sanchez’s maturation and development made Murphy expendable.

As with Murphy this past season, getting Sanchez playing time will be a bit of challenge because McCann is going to start. Eh, challenge probably isn’t the right word. I think a veteran like McCann can be very beneficial for a young catcher like Sanchez — “I’m extremely excited to work with him and see his tools on a daily basis and try to help him get better,” said McCann to Jack Curry recently (video link) — but going from playing everyday to playing once or twice a week can be a tough adjustment.

The Yankees do, however, need to start paying some more attention to McCann’s workload. That isn’t to say Girardi has been oblivious to it — Girardi’s an ex-catcher, after all, he know when McCann needs a rest — it’s just that McCann will be 32 in February and he’s been a starting catcher for eleven seasons now. He’s been behind the plate for nearly 11,000 regular season innings. That’s a lot of wear and tear.

McCann may have started to show some of that wear and tear this past season, when he hit .200/.306/.395 (91 wRC+) in the second half and .174/.301/.279 (64 wRC+) in September. He started 43 of 55 games in May and June — that’s a 127-start pace across a full 162-game season — before Girardi started to scale back and give Murphy a little more playing time in July and August. McCann was a workhorse early in the season.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

“You know, you try to keep it around somewhere between 100-120 games, 120 is pushing it a little bit,” said Girardi when asked about McCann’s 2016 workload at the Winter Meetings. “He wants to play every day, and sometimes I’ve got to tell him, ‘You’re going to take a day here.’ But I think you see how he’s doing … I know his bat is important to us and I have to keep him healthy.”

Sanchez is a natural platoon made for McCann just like Murphy was this past season. Starting Sanchez against southpaws next season — assuming he and not someone else is the backup catcher, of course — ensures McCann regular rest and puts Sanchez in position to do the most damage. It also gives him something of a set schedule, which all players appreciate. Sanchez can look at the upcoming pitchers and get an idea of exactly when he’ll play.

Girardi has also been known to use personal catchers at times — Jose Molina and A.J. Burnett is the most notable example, but he also used to pair Frankie Cervelli with CC Sabathia — and Sanchez could get playing time that way. Luis Severino‘s the obvious candidate here. Severino threw to Sanchez with Double-A Trenton the last two years and again with Triple-A Scranton this year. There’s familiarity there.

Either way, Sanchez now has an obvious long-term role with the organization, and his arrival coincides perfectly with what figures to be the back-end of McCann’s career. The Yankees can begin to scale back on McCann’s workload — an inevitability for all veteran catchers — and incorporate Sanchez into the lineup at a comfortable pace. In 2016, that could mean platoon work against lefties and perhaps a stint as Severino’s personal catcher.

Yanks should explore extending Pineda and Eovaldi given price of pitching, upcoming free agent classes


All throughout the offseason, we’ve heard the Yankees are looking for controllable young pitching because aside from Luis Severino, all of their current starters can become free agents within two years. Ivan Nova will qualify for free agency after 2016 while CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka will do the same after 2017. (Tanaka can opt-out of his deal following 2017.)

While the Yankees do have some starting pitching prospects who figure to contribute at the MLB level come 2018 — James Kaprielian and Rookie Davis, most notably — they’ll need more arms. No doubt about it. Looking for young pitching now makes sense. The problem? It’s crazy expensive. Just look at what it took to get Shelby Miller. That package may be something of an outlier, but the point stands. Pitching is expensive.

The upcoming free agent classes don’t offer much help either. Stephen Strasburg will be the best free agent starter next offseason, and the second best is probably Brett Anderson. Francisco Liriano, Alex Cobb, and Clay Buchholz headline the 2017-18 free agent pitching class. Like I’ve been saying, this offseason’s free agent class was the best in years, and that means going forward too.

Given the cost of pitching and the lack of high-end starters in upcoming free agent classes, the Yankees’ best option for controllable pitching behind 2017 might be the guys already on the roster, specifically Eovaldi and Pineda. They’re still in their mid-20s — Pineda turns 27 in January and Eovaldi turns 26 in February — and both have had flashes of success in New York.

At the same time, both Pineda and Eovaldi have been pretty inconsistent in recent years, and both guys have a major arm injury in their history. Eovaldi had Tommy John surgery eight years ago and Pineda had surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2012. Both guys missed time with injuries this past season too — Eovaldi’s season ended in mid-September due to elbow inflammation and Pineda missed a month with a forearm strain.

The injury history and inconsistency are obvious red flags, though they also potentially help keep contract extension prices down. It’s a classic risk vs. reward situation. Eovaldi and Pineda are reasonably young and have the tools to be very successful, but there are enough red flags to justify going year-to-year contractually. I can understand both sides of the argument, extending them or going year-to-year.

Not many pitchers have signed extensions with four years of service time in recent years. Jordan Zimmermann took a two-year deal during the 2013-14 offseason that didn’t delay free agency — it only gave the Nationals cost certainty over his remaining two arbitration years. The last multi-year deal that bought out free agent years for a pitcher at this service time level was Matt Harrison’s five-year, $55M deal in January 2013.

Ideally, I think an extension for Pineda and/or Eovaldi would cover four years, so their final two arbitration years plus two free agent years. An option or two would be cool as well. The Yankees would get control of both through 2019 and the two pitchers would hit free agency at 29-30, an age where they could still land a big free agent deal. MLBTR projects Eovaldi for $5.7M through arbitration next year and Pineda for $4.6M. Using that as a starting point, how’s this for potential framework?

Eovaldi Pineda
2016 (Arb. Year) $5.5M $4.5M
2017 (Arb. Year) $7.5M $7M
2018 (FA Year) $13M $13M
2019 (FA Year) $15M $15M
2020 (Option) $17M ($1M buyout) $17M ($1M buyout)
Total Guarantee $42M + option $40.5M + option

I just spitballed some numbers and looking them over, they seem too low. Wouldn’t you give Pineda and Eovaldi four years and $40M or so guaranteed right now given the current market? Mike Leake got five years and $75M. Jeff Samardzija got five years and $90M. Eovaldi’s currently scheduled to hit free agency at age 27 and Pineda will be 28. The market generally rewards youth, as long as they stay reasonably healthy and effective.

At the same time, I’m not sure how much higher the Yankees should go given their injury issues. Neither Pineda nor Eovaldi received large signing bonuses as amateurs — Pineda signed for $35,000 out of the Dominican Republic and Eovaldi got $250,000 as an 11th round pick — but they made $2.1M and $3.3M through arbitration in 2015, respectively. They have some financial security and may not jump at an extension.

Either way, the point isn’t the Yankees absolutely should sign Pineda or Eovaldi to a contract extension. It’s that they should at least explore the possibility and see what the other side has in mind. Perhaps both players ask for too much and that’s that, no deal can be worked out. It might have already happened for all we know. On the other hand, if the Yankees haven’t checked in, one or both might be more open to an extension than they realize.

The Yankees aren’t stupid. They know more about Pineda and Eovaldi than we ever will and it’s possible they have concerns about their health and effectiveness, and aren’t willing to assume the long-term risk. Extending both players is just one idea to give the Yankees some controllable starters beyond 2017. The trade market seems crazy and free agency doesn’t offer much help. Paying Pineda and/or Eovaldi might be the best way for the Yankees to get the pitching they need.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 28th, 2015

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

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Holiday Open Thread

I’m going to be out of town the rest of the week, so unless there’s breaking news, I don’t plan to post anything. I’m going to leave you with two videos. The first is every single home run the Yankees hit in 2015. All 212 of ’em. The second is ESPN’s 30 for 30 feature on Orlando and Livan Hernandez, called Brothers in Exile. It tells their life story, basically. I saw it on television when it originally aired and it was really, really good. Check it out.

So, until I get back to town, this is your open thread. Use it talk to about whatever you like, except religion and politics. This ain’t the place for that. Happy Holidays, everyone. Hopefully Santa brings the Yankees a young starter.