Late last night, the Yankees landed their high-priced closer and agreed to sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year contract worth $86M. It includes no-trade protection and an opt-out after the third year. Joel Sherman and Bob Nightengale say Chapman turned down more money from the Marlins, who offered $87M with opt-outs after years one and two. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.
1. From a baseball perspective, the signing makes sense in a vacuum (get good players) but I’m not convinced it’s the right move for the Yankees at this point in time. The last thing a mediocre to bad team needs is an expensive closer, and the Yankees very well might be a mediocre to bad team with an expensive closer in 2017. Maybe 2018 too. Realistically, what’s the upside on the 2017 Yankees, barring no other significant moves this offseason? Maybe 88 wins and a wild card spot? That’s the upper bounds of reasonable expectations. We saw this past season that having a dominant bullpen doesn’t mean a whole lot when the rotation and offense don’t hold up their end of the bargain, and neither the offense nor the rotation have been improved in a meaningful way this winter. Any improvement will stem from the kids coming into their own. The Yankees are paying a lot of money now to buy Chapman for the future, which would be fine if relievers weren’t so damn volatile. The history of long-term contracts for bullpen arms, even elite ones, is so very ugly. The Yankees are banking on Chapman being an outlier. Good luck with that.
2. It’s very possible, if not likely, the timing of the opt-out clause means that just as the Yankees are ready to be serious World Series contenders again, they’re going to lose their closer. That’s the best case scenario, right? The kids develop well, the Yankees sign some great players during the 2018-19 mega-free agent class, and they’re ready to raise some hell during the 2019 season. Sure, the kids could develop quicker than expected and things can happen sooner. That would be a surprise, I think. Maybe I’m just a pessimist. The odds are pretty good, probably higher than the Yankees are willing to admit, they’re a legitimate contender with Chapman for all of one season before the opt-out comes into play. I get it, opt-outs come with the territory now, but they so rarely work to the team’s advantage. What’s the scenario in which Chapman’s works out well for the Yankees, realistically?
3. The Yankees are trying like hell to get under the luxury tax threshold next season, and they just committed approximately 10% of their available player payroll under the threshold to a one-inning reliever who only has an impact when the other 24 guys on the roster do their job. Maybe not the smartest use of resources there, not with the rotation such a long-term question. Brian Cashman already admitted the Yankees are basically tapped out this offseason following the Chapman deal, so they can’t do much more than pick at the free agent scraps. I guess that doesn’t matter much since the free agent class stinks, but still. They can’t take on much salary in a trade either. Paying $17.2M a year for a one-inning pitcher whose usage depends on the rest of the team is something you do when you’re a) ready to win the World Series, or b) operating with a seemingly unlimited payroll. The Yankees are neither at the moment.
4. Don’t forget how this started. This all started because Chapman did something terrible in his house with the people he cares about the most around him, terrible enough to warrant a police investigation and a 30-game suspension that would have been longer had he not cut a deal with MLB to maintain his impending free agency. That ugliness created the reality of Chapman in pinstripes. The Yankees are hoping some 105 mph fastballs will make everyone forget all about that, and based on the reaction over the summer, it’ll work. But the people whose lives have been damaged by domestic violence won’t overlook it. There have been questions about Chapman’s makeup for a very long time, dating back to his time with the Cuban National Team, and he had every reason to be on his best behavior this past season given his impending free agency. Now the Yankees plopped a ton of money in front of him and are betting on him being a changed man, and hey, maybe he is. The team better hope so.
5. Personally speaking, Chapman being on the roster takes so much excitement away from the youth and the rebuild. The Yankees have an awful lot of really good young players not just in the farm system, but at or near the big leagues too. Next year we’re going to see Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird possibly spend their first full season together. How fun is that? I was so looking forward to it. Have been for a long time. Now the Yankees cast a big dark cloud over it with Chapman. That’s my opinion — I know for sure the opinion of many others as well — and you are very welcome to feel differently. They’re going to market the crap out of Chapman and have a disgustingly over-the-top entrance whenever he comes into the game, just like they did this year. I just can’t enjoy it. You might be okay with it. I’m not. I guess I was wrong to get my hopes up thinking the Yankees would be above using something as serious as domestic violence to get ahead on the field. I was wrong. It is g r o s s.
6. The Yankees, as an important part of the community, really need to do something and take some sort of stand here. They made a long-term commitment. Chapman has shown zero remorse since the incident last year, not a shred of regret, so it’s up to the team to do something. Donate to charity, whatever. Go beyond the halfhearted tweets* every team in the league sends out. The Yankees are short on good PR these days. The team has been marginally competitive at best the last four years, the COO told non-elites to stay the hell out of the Legends seats over the summer, and now they’ve acquired Chapman twice. Turn this into a positive somehow and try to do something to salvage the “classy” reputation the team claims to have. But they won’t. They didn’t this past season. They’ll make some more shirts and turn it all into profit.
* How completely idiotic is MLB’s anti-domestic violence campaign? The slogan is “Not A Fan.” The league is “not a fan” of domestic violence. It makes it sound like it’s socially acceptable, but no, it’s not for me. You go ahead though. How stupid. Does anyone think this stuff through?