Solano and Young elect free agency as Yankees continue 40-man roster purge

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Both outfielder Eric Young Jr. and infielder Donovan Solano have elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster, the Yankees announced in recent days. I didn’t realize Young was still under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2017. No surprise they cut him loose though. He was never a long-term piece.

Young, 31, was acquired from the Brewers in a cash deal on August 31st to serve as the designated September pinch-runner. He appeared in six games with the Yankees, pinch-ran four times, and stole one base. On two occasions Young pinch-ran and the next hitter immediately hit a homer. He also played some outfield late in two blowouts.

The 28-year-old Solano went 5-for-22 (.227) with a home run in nine late-season games with the Yankees. He was only called up after Starlin Castro went down with a hamstring injury. Solano hit .319/.349/.436 with seven homers and an International League leading 163 hits with Triple-A Scranton this past season. Nice little minor league pickup, I’d say.

The Yankees have now dropped five players from the 40-man roster since the end of the regular season: Young, Solano, Anthony Swarzak, Blake Parker, and Kirby Yates. Parker and Yates were both claimed off waivers by the Angels. Swarzak elected free agency. J.R. Graham was also outrighted in late-September, so the Yankees have six open 40-man spots.

One of those spots went to Greg Bird; he was activated off the 60-day DL yesterday, the Yankees announced. That had to happen so he could play in the Arizona Fall League, which opens its season today. So the Yankees now have five open 40-man spots with six players on the 60-day DL: Dustin Ackley, Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Green, Conor Mullee, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow. They have to be activated the day after the end of the World Series.

Mark Teixeira and Billy Butler will become free agents after the postseason, giving the Yankees seven open spots. They’ll go to the six 60-day DL guys and Kyle Higashioka, who Brian Cashman confirmed will be added to the 40-man roster to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. The Yankees will then have to open 40-man spots for Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects in November, most notably Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar, and Domingo Acevedo. Dietrich Enns and Tyler Webb will be Rule 5 Draft eligible as well.

Looking over the roster, other potential 40-man roster casualties include Mullee, James Pazos, Johnny Barbato, and Richard Bleier. Not getting a September call-up was probably bad news for Barbato. I also expect the Yankees to release Eovaldi and Ackley sooner rather than later given their injuries. No sense in waiting until the December 2nd non-tender deadline given the 40-man situation.

The Boringly Adequate Chase Headley [2016 Season Review]

Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.


Three years ago the Yankees came to a realization: Alex Rodriguez was no longer a capable third baseman. He had hip surgery during the 2012-13 offseason and was suspended for all of 2014, plus he was closing in on his 40th birthday, and guys who go through all of that don’t stay at a demanding infield position. It was time to find a new full-time third baseman.

In 2013 the Yankees turned to Kevin Youkilis, which was a disaster. In 2014 they went originally with Kelly Johnson, but Yangervis Solarte forced the issue in Spring Training. At midseason, the Yankees went for the more proven commodity and sent Solarte to the Padres for Chase Headley. Headley played well enough in the second half of the 2014 season to earn a new four-year, $52M contract as a free agent. The 2016 season was year two of four.

The Inexcusably Awful April

Last season was the worst full season of Headley’s career. He hit .259/.324/.369 (92 wRC+) with eleven homers in 156 games, plus he stopped played top notch defense. Headley went from being a big time asset in the field to being a big liability. Getting his defense back on track was priority No. 1 this year, perhaps so much so that it hurt his offense. Headley spent a lot of time working on his throwing in Spring Training.

In the first month of this season, Headley hit an unfathomable .150/.268/.150 (22 wRC+) in 71 plate appearances. Yeah, he drew plenty of walks (14.1%), but holy cow was he bad. No extra-base hits? No extra-base hits! In terms of OPS+, Headley had the second worst April by a regular player in franchise history. He had a 21 OPS+. Roger Peckinpaugh had 16 OPS+ in April 1918. Yeah.

Headley had two-hit games on April 12th and 19th. He had five hits the rest of the month. You can blame poor luck on balls in play (.191 BABIP) if you want, but a 17.0% soft contact rate and a 21.3% hard contact rate doesn’t exactly scream “this guy isn’t being rewarded.” Headley was awful in April. Inexcusably so, really. Ronald Torreyes took some at-bats away from him, though ultimately the Yankees needed to get Headley on track, so he remained in the lineup.

The Return to Normalcy

May 12th. That was the date of Headley’s first extra-base hit this season. It was team game No. 33 and his 103rd plate appearance. Headley’s first non-single was an opposite field home run, because of course it was. Ex-Yankee Ian Kennedy served it up. To the action footage:

“It’s been pretty crummy all year, to be honest,” said Headley following the game. “There was never a question in my mind that I was going to come out of it … I’m very confident in who I am as a player. But you have to produce. When you’re playing here and the team’s not playing well, you know you have to get it going. The confidence in the short term wasn’t as high as it usually is, so it was frustrating. But never have I thought, ‘I’m not going to hit anymore.'”

Naturally, Headley’s second extra-base hit came the next day. That was also a home run. Against Chris Sale of all people. Two days later Headley hit his first double of the season. The floodgates were open! By Headley standards, anyway. He got the monkey off his back — I can’t imagine the lack of extra base hits wasn’t weighing on his mind — and his performance started to improve into the warm summer months. It almost couldn’t get worse, really.

Early in the season Headley said he was rolling over on too many pitches and pulling too many grounders, which killed his production. He was doing it from both sides of the plate too. Once Headley was able to hit the ball in the air a little more often — and impact the baseball harder in general — his production began to tick up. Check out his rolling ground ball and hard contact rates:

Chase Headley GB rateThe hard contact rate climbed steadily and peaked north of 50% in July. That’s really good! Headley’s ground ball rate was up close to 60% at the start of the season before coming down to 40% or so at midseason. That’s much better. It makes sense for some hitters to hit the ball on the ground. Not Headley. He’s no speedster. He needs to elevate the ball to be productive and he wasn’t doing that in April.

From the start of May through the end of the season, Headley hit .265/.338/.418 (103 wRC+) with 18 doubles and 14 homers in 458 plate appearances and 121 games. That’s after putting up a 102 wRC+ from 2013-15. April 2016 was the outlier for Headley. Not May through early-October. He had a bad month — a terrible, awful, horrible, abysmal month — and went right back to being the guy he’s been the last few seasons.

All told, Headley hit .251/.329/.383 (92 wRC+) with 14 home runs in 2016. He also stole eight bases and always seemed to do so in big moments. Headley was a sneaky good base-stealer. The miserable April dragged his overall numbers down, but that miserable April happened, so we can’t ignore it. Headley was basically a league average hitter after April and there’s nothing exciting about that. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is.

The Defensive Rebound

For all the questions about Headley’s bat, there were never any concerns about his defense, at least not until last season. Last year Headley became alarmingly error prone, especially on throws. He was very tentative. There was no conviction behind any of his throws. It looked like he had the yips. No doubt about it. I mean:

Chase Headley error

That is not a man who is confident in his throwing ability. We saw an awful lot of that last season. Headley worked and worked and worked on it all season, and when Spring Training opened up, he worked and worked and worked on it some more. He and infield coach Joe Espada went out to the back fields every day to work on footwork and things like that.

To the surprise of many (I’m guessing), Headley did rebound defensively this past season. His throwing issues were gone and he appeared more confident in the field as the season progressed. Look at the last four seasons:

2013: +5 DRS and +7.0 UZR
2014: +13 DRS and +20.9 UZR
2015: -6 DRS and -3 UZR
2016: +7 DRS and +6.6 UZR

One of those things is not like the other. Headley’s been a really good defensive third baseman his entire career except for last season, when he lost his way for whatever reason. Players have bad years defensively. It’s just like offense. You can go into a defensive slump, and Headley did last season. He worked hard to get himself out of it and this year we saw a comfortably above-average gloveman at the hot corner, which is what we all expected when Headley first arrived in 2014.

The total package, meaning a bit below-average bat with an above-average glove, works out to an average-ish player. Headley ranked 15th among third basemen with +2.6 fWAR and 15th with +2.6 bWAR. Freaky. That’s pretty much exactly where he belongs. Middle of the pack. Headley’s a league average third baseman, someone who mans the position adequately and without any flash. Unexciting. Reliable. Safe. Boring. Those are good words to describe Headley. He leaves you wanting more but won’t sink your season either.

Outlook for 2017


The Yankees put Headley on the market at the trade deadline — it seems they did that with all their veterans — but obviously no team bit. Or at least no one made an acceptable offer. The Yankees don’t have  a replacement everyday third baseman in house, so it would have been interesting to see what happened had Headley been dealt. Torreyes? Rob Refsnyder? Donovan Solano? Who knows.

Whenever a team puts a player on the trade market at the deadline, chances are they’ll do the same in the offseason. The free agent third base market is weak, especially after Martin Prado‘s extension with the Marlins, meaning teams that don’t want to pony up for Justin Turner will turn to the trade market. Of course, the Yankees themselves would have to figure out how to replace Headley should they trade him. They need competency at the hot corner too.

My guess right now is Headley remains with the Yankees next season. There’s two years and $26M left on his contract and that’s pretty much exactly what he’s worth. These days $13M a season doesn’t buy you much in free agency. The Yankees will listen to offers for Headley this winter, I’m sure of it, but his value to the team in the field is probably greater than whatever he’d fetch in a trade.

MLBTR’s projected 2017 arbitration salaries and the Dellin Betances outlier

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

With the 2016 season now complete, we can begin to look forward to the offseason and the 2017 Yankees, and this winter a lot of attention will be paid to arbitration-eligible players. The Yankees have a lot of them. Nine, in fact. Some of them are pretty important parts of the team too.

Yesterday Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors published his annual arbitration salary projections for next season. Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate and it gets more and more precise with each passing season. The numbers might not be exact, but they’re usually in the ballpark. Here’s what Swartz’s model projects for the Yankees’ nine arbitration-eligible players.

That’s $32.8M worth of arbitration salaries next year, which works out to a $14.6M raise over what those nine players earned this past season. As a reminder, players need three years of service time (3.000) to qualify for arbitration in most cases. Some, like Gregorius and Layne, are arbitration-eligible four times as a Super Two. The Super Two cutout this year is approximately 2.127, according to Steve Adams. That doesn’t really affect the Yankees. Anyway, here are some thoughts on the projected arbitration salaries.

1. The Betances projection seems light. The arbitration process is pretty archaic. Old school stats like ERA and saves — especially saves — matter most. Betances has been a setup man for the majority of his career, so he doesn’t have those big money making saves totals, which is going to hurt his arbitration case. We all know Dellin has been one of the two or three best relievers in baseball since Opening Day 2014 though.

Swartz’s model has trouble with elite players with unprecedented resumes. Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into arbitration with two Cy Youngs a few years ago. Betances leads all relievers in innings and strikeouts over the last three seasons by a lot. He struck out 392 batters from 2014-16. Next most by a reliever? Andrew Miller with 326. Yeah. Look at the five highest strikeout totals by a reliever the last three years:

  1. 2014 Betances: 135
  2. 2015 Betances: 131
  3. 2016 Betances: 126
  4. 2016 Miller: 123
  5. 2015 Aroldis Chapman: 115

Yeah. Betances is also a three-time All-Star. Do you know how many other relievers have been to the All-Star Game each of the last three years? None. Not one. Dellin’s the only one. The All-Star Game selections plus the bulk inning and strikeout totals mean Betances is going into arbitration with far more earning potential than most setup men. He could break Swartz’s model, so to speak.

As best I can tell, the record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible reliever is $6.25M by Jonathan Papelbon back in the day. The lack of saves will probably prevent Betances from breaking Papelbon’s record, though I do think he’s going to wind up with a salary closer to Papelbon’s than the projected salary above. Dellin isn’t a normal reliever and projecting his arbitration salary with a one size fits all model probably won’t work.

2. Eovaldi and Ackley are goners. Swartz’s model projects no raise for Ackley. He made $3.2M this year and the model has him making $3.2M next year. That’s what happens when you barely play and barely hit before suffering a season-ending injury. Given the salary and the lack of production, Ackley is a prime non-tender candidate this offseason. The Yankees might release him after the World Series to clear 40-man roster space rather than wait until the December 2nd tender deadline.

As for Eovaldi, the model projects a $1.9M raise, though that’s pretty irrelevant. He recently underwent major elbow surgery, including his second Tommy John surgery, so he’s going to miss the entire 2017 season. There’s no sense in paying Eovaldi that much money to not pitch next season, especially when he’ll be a free agent next winter. The business side of baseball can be cruel. Eovaldi is hurt and soon he’s going to be unemployed too. The Yankees will non-tender him. Brian Cashman all but confirmed it.

A non-tender wouldn’t necessarily mean Eovaldi’s career in pinstripes is over. The Yankees could re-sign him to a smaller contract with an eye on 2018. They’ve done that before, sign injured pitchers to a two-year deal and rehab them in year one. Think Jon Lieber and Andrew Bailey and David Aardsma. The second Tommy John surgery is much riskier than the first, but with pitching so in demand, it’s probably worth exploring a two-year deal with Eovaldi. Just not at the projected salary.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Extension time for Gregorius? Gregorius made $2.425M this past season and projects to make $5.1M next season, which is a $2.675M raise. His salary projects to more than double. Didi will be in his second of four arbitration years as a Super Two next year, so if we apply similar raises going forward, we get $7.775M in 2017 and $10.45M in 2018. That’s a real quick and dirty way of estimating his earning potential the next three years.

That rough estimate puts Gregorius at $23.325M from 2016-18 before he hits free agency. Is it worth it to explore a long-term extension this offseason? It is if you think his power breakout this past season was real, and there are reasons to believe it is. Gregorius is only 26, remember. He’s entering what should be the best years of his career. A four-year deal that guarantees him $35M or so seems worthwhile for the Yankees. We’re talking about a prime age player at a premium position.

At the same time, the Yankees have a ton of shortstops in the minors, namely Tyler Wade in Double-A plus both Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo in High-A. I wouldn’t worry about that though. Gregorius is a talented young player at a hard to fill position and those guys are worth locking up. If there’s a logjam at shortstop when Wade and Torres and Mateo and whoever are ready, great! That’s a good problem.

4. Big Mike‘s big salary. Being a starting pitcher is pretty good when arbitration time arrives. Even mediocre starters like Pineda get hefty raises. He made $4.3M this past season and projects for $7.8M next year, so we’re talking about a $3.5M raise. That’s despite a 6-12 record and a 4.82 ERA (90 ERA+) in 175.2 innings. That stuff matters in arbitration.

Pineda’s raise has more to do with his 207 strikeouts and AL leading 10.6 K/9. And really, $7.8M is still below market value for a pitcher of Pineda’s caliber. Guys like him will run you $10M to $12M or so in free agency. Probably more these days. It would be worth asking Pineda and his representatives what it would take to get an extension done this offseason, simply because the upcoming free agent pitching classes are so weak.

5. The remain projections are fair. The projections for Warren ($2.3M), Hicks ($1.4M), Layne ($1.2M), and Romine ($900,000) seem just about right. Not high enough to consider a non-tender and not low enough to see it as a bargain. That could change in a year, but right now, they’re fair. Weirdly enough, it wouldn’t surprise me if all four of those guys are on the 2017 Opening Day roster and it wouldn’t surprise me if all four are jettisoned in the offseason. I feel like we’re in for some surprises this winter.

Monday Night Open Thread

The first postseason series came to an end last night as the Blue Jays swept the Rangers on Rougned Odor’s walk-off error. They’re loving that in Toronto. Texas won 95 games with a +8 run differential this season. Imagine that. Life in the AL West must be nice. Anyway, here is today’s postseason action, which is why the thread is up early:

  • NLDS Game Three: Nationals at Dodgers (Gonzalez vs. Maeda), 4pm ET on MLBN (Series tied 1-1)
  • ALDS Game Three: Indians at Red Sox (Tomlin vs. Buchholz), 6pm ET on TBS (Indians up 2-0)
  • NLDS Game Three: Cubs at Giants (Arrieta vs. Bumgarner), 9:30pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Cubs up 2-0)

There’s also Monday Night Football (Buccaneers vs. Panthers), so talk about any of those games or anything else right here. Just no politics or religion, please. This ain’t the place for that.

(Today is the anniversary of the Raul Ibanez game, by the way. That’s why I picked that video.)

Yankees land three on Baseball America’s top Single-A prospects lists

Gleyber. (Tim Holle/Brevard County Manatees)
Gleyber. (Tim Holle/Brevard County Manatees)

Baseball America’s annual look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued last week with the various Single-A leagues, including the Low-A South Atlantic League and High-A Florida State League (subs. req’d). Nationals OF Victor Robles was the top prospect in the Sally League while Mets SS Amed Rosario was the top prospect in the FSL. You can see all the top 20 lists right here, without a subscription.

The Yankees landed three prospects on the FSL list, starting with SS Gleyber Torres. He is the No. 2 prospect in the circuit behind Rosario. Gleyber came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade — Baseball America (subs. req’d) also ranked Torres as the No. 4 prospect in the High-A Carolina League, where he started the season before the trade — and is arguably not even the best prospect the Yankees acquired in the trade deadline.

“Torres isn’t as flashy but earned comparisons with the Cubs’ Javier Baez for his leg kick, aggression and power potential at the plate … He has a knack for the barrel but also has bat speed, with some loft in his swing and pull power” said the write-up. The scouting report also says Torres is considered “at least above-average if not plus” defensively at short. He has the bat to profile at third if a move is necessary down the line.

SS Jorge Mateo ranked fifth on the FSL list and the write-up says “maturity (was mentioned) frequently as a need for Mateo, not just with his makeup but with his fairly raw game.” His top of the line speed still is still there, but he needs to get stronger to better drive the ball. While Mateo’s defense at short is good, the scouting report says some believe he fits best in center field long-term. The Yankees have had him play some center in Instructional League recently.

The third Yankees farmhand on the FSL list is RHP Chance Adams, who broke out in a big way this season. He ranked 18th. “Adams repeats his delivery, uses his legs well and produces plus fastball velocity, usually sitting 93-95 mph and touching 97,” said the write-up. He also throws a slider, changeup, and curveball, with the latter lagging behind the other two. One evaluator said “Adams dominated the league when he was here. He just imposed himself on other teams.”

RHP James Kaprielian did not throw enough innings to quality for the FSL list, but, in the chat, John Manuel said he “definitely would have been the first pitcher ranked” had he stayed healthy. LHP Ian Clarkin wasn’t a serious consideration for the list because “he pitched with less stuff and fringe-average stuff.” OF Mark Payton also earned a mention in the chat, though he didn’t play enough to qualify for the list. “I can see him being a fifth outfielder type, an up and down guy … I suspect he’ll wear an MLB uniform at some point,” said Manuel.

The Yankees did not have any prospects on the South Atlantic League list, which isn’t too surprising. Low-A Charleston wasn’t a great prospect team in 2016. SS Kyle Holder and SS Hoy Jun Park were the team’s top prospects. J.J. Cooper said RHP Dillon Tate was “not all that close” to making it in the chat. “Tate’s stuff was a little better in August with Charleston, but right now he looks more like a potential reliever than the front-line starter that scouts hoped to see coming out of the draft,” said Cooper.

Baseball America ranked three Yankees among the top rookie ball prospects this year. The Double-A Eastern League and Triple-A International League top 20 lists will be the fun ones. The Yankees should be well-represented on both. Well, that assumes guys like C Gary Sanchez, OF Aaron Judge, RHP Chad Green, 1B Tyler Austin, and RHP Luis Cessa spent enough time with Triple-A Scranton to qualify for the IL list. We’ll see.

The Stopgap Closer [2016 Season Review]

Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.


Over the last few seasons the Yankees have made a habit of carrying at least two elite relievers on their roster. The cast of characters changed — it was Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes in 2009, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson in 2012, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller in 2015, etc. — but Joe Girardi always had a pair of high-end arms in his bullpen. It was quite the luxury.

This past season the Yankees set themselves up to carry three top notch relievers. Aroldis Chapman was brought in over the winter to join Betances and Miller, forming what might have been the most devastating 1-2-3 bullpen punch in history. Those three held up their end of the bargain. They were excellent. The rest of the team did not. When time came to make a change at midseason, Chapman was the first one traded away. His short time in pinstripes was … eventful.

The First Trade

It was only three years ago that the Reds were in the postseason, you know. They went 90-72 in 2013, but lost the NL Wildcard Game to the Pirates, which more or less marked the beginning of their rebuild. Cincinnati went 76-86 in 2014 and 64-98 in 2015. Johnny Cueto and Todd Frazier were traded away. Brandon Phillips would have gone too had he not invoked his no-trade clause. The Reds decided to start over.

The rebuild continued this offseason with the Chapman trade. The Reds and Dodgers agreed to a trade that would have sent Chapman to Los Angeles at the Winter Meetings in December. The trade was done. The two teams agreed to the players and figuratively shook on it. The trade then hit a snag, and for a while no one knew why. Everyone kinda assumed something popped up in the medicals somewhere. That’s usually what happens.

Then, on December 7th, Jeff Passan and Tim Brown reported Chapman was being investigated by police for an alleged domestic abuse incident at his home in Miami back in October. His girlfriend claimed he pushed and choked her, then fired a handgun in his garage. Chapman denied pushing and choking her but admitted to police he fired eight shots from his handgun in his house. No arrests were made that night.

That was enough for the Dodgers. The club backed out of the trade and the Reds were left with a very good player, albeit an extremely devalued accident. The domestic violence incident became public knowledge and Chapman became persona non grata around the league. The Reds tried for weeks to trade him after the deal with the Dodgers fell apart and had no luck. It wasn’t until after Christmas that the Yankees came calling.

On December 28th, three weeks after the news of Chapman’s domestic violence incident broke, the Yankees acquired the hard-throwing southpaw from Cincinnati for four non-top prospects. “Given the circumstances that exist, the price point on the acquisition has been modified,” said Brian Cashman during the trade conference call. “We felt this was an opportunity to add a big arm to our bullpen.”

Translation: the domestic violence incident lowered the asking price and we took advantage. That’s what happened. There’s no need to dance around it. Every team in baseball wanted Chapman in their bullpen. Few were willing to take the PR hit that came with acquiring a player being investigated for domestic violence. The Yankees, seeing this as an opportunity to buy low, made the trade. Gross.


At the time of the trade Chapman was still being investigated by police. It wasn’t clear whether he would face criminal charges or be suspended by MLB under the new domestic violence policy. Ultimately, Chapman was not charged with a crime because witnesses changed their stories. The handgun was registered and owned legally, and from what I understand there’s no law against shooting a gun on your own private property in Florida.

The Yankees took the PR hit — “Certainly, there is some serious issues here that are in play … There’s risk, and I understand that,” said Cashman — but added a truly great reliever to the bullpen. They were a better team after the trade, unquestionably. They also upset more than a few fans because, as it turns out, people don’t like domestic violence, especially those who have had it in their lives. The team hoped the allure of 105 mph fastballs would make everything better. That was the plan.

MLB’s investigation into the incident carried over into Spring Training, and on March 1st, commissioner Rob Manfred announced Chapman would be suspended 30 games for the incident. “I am gratified that Mr. Chapman has taken responsibility for his conduct, that he has agreed not to appeal the 30-game suspension, and that he has agreed to comply with the confidential directives of the Joint Policy Board established under the parties’ Policy to ensure that a similar incident does not occur in the future,” said the press release.

Chapman became the first player suspended under the league’s new domestic violence policy. He agreed to the 30-game suspension for one reason: to avoid having his free agency pushed back. Had Chapman continued to fight the suspension, the league could have suspended him even longer, and a ban of 46 games would have prevented him from becoming a free agent after the season. The 30-day ban and forfeiting $1.7M in salary was worth it to maintain free agent eligibility after 2016.

Because this whole thing wasn’t weird and gross enough, Chapman was allowed to continue partipating in Spring Training. How about that? He went through team workouts and even pitched in Grapefruit League games. Eight of them, in fact. At the end of camp, the rest of the Yankees went north and Chapman stayed behind in Tampa to stay sharp during his suspension. He threw bullpens and pitched in simulated games against Extended Spring Training kids.

Eleven Weeks of Dominance

The Yankees went 11-18 during Chapman’s suspension — a rainout meant he missed only 29 games — though that was hardly a product of missing a reliever. The offense stunk. That was the problem. Chapman returned to the Yankees on May 9th, and he made his season debut that night, in a four-run game. It was exactly what Girardi wanted. A relatively low stress outing to ease him back in.

Chapman immediately took over as the team’s closer, as planned. Girardi said that was going to be the case in Spring Training and that’s exactly how it played out. Miller did nothing to lose the closer’s job — Chapman actually allowed a run before Miller this season — but because he’s a swell guy, Andrew moved into a setup role with zero complaints. The three-headed bullpen monster was intact.

Chapman’s first save with the Yankees came in his second appearance; he struck out one in a scoreless inning against the Royals on May 10th to protect a three-run lead. Over his first 25 appearances in pinstripes, Chapman went 17-for-18 in save chances and fanned 34 batters in 23 innings. He allowed only eight runs (seven earned) and opponents hit a weak .207/.250/.322 against him. Chapman was as advertised on the mound. Utterly dominant.

On July 9th in Cleveland, Aroldis had his finest moment as a Yankee. The Yankees and Indians were tied 6-6 in the ninth inning, and Girardi went to his closer on the road in a tie game. Chapman recorded the final out of the ninth with the winning run at second, tossed a perfect tenth inning, then went back out for the 11th after the Yankees took the lead on Brian McCann‘s double. He threw 32 pitches and struck out four in 2.1 scoreless innings.

That was Chapman’s final appearance before the All-Star break and ultimately his sixth to last appearance as a Yankee. He appeared in five more games after the break, throwing six scoreless innings. All told, Chapman pitched to a 2.01 ERA (1.93 FIP) with a 36.7% strikeout rate and a 6.7% walk rate in 31.1 innings with New York. He also went 20-for-21 in save chances. Three things stood out to me about Chapman during his short time with the Yankees.

1. The raw velocity is jaw-dropping. On July 18th against the Orioles, Chapman threw a fastball that PitchFX measured at 105.85 mph. That’s the fastest pitch ever recorded. Chapman broke his own record, a 105.81 mph heater he threw back in 2010. His slowest fastest pitch in a game the Yankees was 99.13 mph. Chapman threw 254 pitches at 100+ mph with the Yankees. The rest of baseball threw 407 such pitches during that time. He accounted for 38% percent of the league’s 100+ mph pitches from Opening Day through July 25th in only 31.1 innings. That’s nuts.

2. He’s an incredibly strong and athletic human. The raw radar gun readings were impressive enough. What really stood out to me was Chapman’s ability to throw that hard even while fatigued. Girardi used Chapman on back-to-back days an awful lot — there were several instances in which he warmed up to pitch a third straight day too — yet his velocity never waned. Chapman pitched five times in a seven-day span from June 2nd through June 9th, and in the fifth appearance he averaged 100.10 mph and topped out at 102.27 mph. Ridiculous. It’s a shame the term freak of nature has been so overused because Chapman is a true freak of nature. Humans aren’t supposed to throw this hard. He’s an incredible athlete and so powerful.

3. He gives up a lot of foul balls for a guy who throws 100 mph. Among the 359 pitchers to throw at least 750 pitches during the regular season, Chapman ranked eighth with a 23.4% foul ball rate. So despite that high octane fastball and sneaky good slider, hitters were still able to foul off roughly one quarter of Chapman’s pitches. Maybe this isn’t such a big deal — Kenley Jansen is first at 25.95% and he’s pretty darn good too — I was just surprised at how often hitters were able to spoil those triple-digit fastballs. I guess I kinda expected Chapman to come in and throw fastballs by everyone. That’s a me problem, not a Chapman problem. Still, lots of foul balls.

The Second Trade


Chapman was available to the Yankees for 69 total games, and in those 69 games the Yankees went 39-30. That’s pretty good! Too bad that only improved them to 50-48 on the season overall. On the morning of July 25th, the day the Yankees traded Chapman away, the team was 7.5 games back in the division and 4.5 games back of a wildcard spot with four teams ahead of them. FanGraphs put their postseason odds at 8.3%.

The Yankees were going nowhere fast leading up to the trade deadline, so rumblings of a Chapman trade grew louder. I thought it made sense to trade him even if the Yankees were in the race. They got him at a discounted rate and were in position to flip him for much more than they gave up. The various investigations were over and he’d served his suspension. When the Yankees acquired him, they had no idea whether he would be suspended five games, 30 games, or 162 games. That mystery was gone.

As expected, there was no shortage of interested teams. Basically every contender was connected to Chapman at some point. The Cubs were said to be the most aggressive suitor, which made sense. They were having a fantastic season and Chapman was someone who could help put them over the top. Two months of a great closer is not something you give up the farm to acquire when you’re on the postseason bubble. That’s someone you go get when you want to win the World Series, like the Cubs.

So, after a weekend of negotiations, the Yankees and Cubs finalized the Chapman trade on Monday, July 25th, one week prior to the trade deadline. Chapman went to Chicago for old pal Adam Warren, shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, and outfield prospects Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. Torres was the real prize. Baseball America ranked him as the 27th best prospect in baseball at midseason. Warren is Warren, and McKinney was a top 100 prospect a year ago. Crawford, the fourth piece, is a toolsy lottery ticket.

From a pure baseball perspective, the series of Chapman trades was masterful. The Yankees got him for pennies on the dollar, then traded him for about $1.75 on the dollar. They turned four non-top prospects into 31.1 innings of Chapman, Warren, an elite prospect, and two other prospects. How is that anything but a smashing success? Given what they received in the trade, keeping Chapman in hopes of contention and taking the draft pick at the end of the season would have been a big mistake.

What About The Prospects?

We’ll cover Warren and the three prospects the Yankees received in the Chapman trade later in the season review series. This section is about the four prospects the Yankees gave up to get Chapman last December. Here’s the list and a brief recap of their seasons:

  • RHP Caleb Cotham: Made the Reds’ Opening Day roster and had a 7.40 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 24.1 relief innings before going down with shoulder and knee problems.
  • RHP Rookie Davis: Had a 3.71 ERA (4.27 FIP) in 131 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He struck out only 15.5% of batters faced.
  • 3B Eric Jagielo: Hit an unfathomable .205/.305/.310 (83 wRC+) with seven homers in 111 games at Double-A. I have no idea what in the world happened here.
  • IF Tony Renda: Hit .311/.363/.434 (132 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A, then got called up to the show late in the season. He picked up his first MLB hit three days after the fact thanks to a scoring change.

I have no idea what happened to Jagielo. That’s the same guy who hit .284/.367/.495 (141 wRC+) with nine homers in 58 Double-A games in 2015 before going down with a knee injury. I guess the injury took that much out of him? Davis broke out last year but didn’t build on it this year. Cotham and Renda were so far down the depth chart the Yankees didn’t even notice they were gone.

Cotham. (Presswire)
Cotham. (Presswire)

From Cincinnati’s perspective, this trade is a total disaster. They had the opportunity to trade Chapman at the deadline last year, decided to wait until the offseason, and it came back to bite them. The Reds ended up settling for four meh at best pieces for one of the best closers in the game, then watched the Yankees flip him for a ton seven months later. Woof. Needless to say, the Yankees are pretty thrilled with how things turned out.

Outlook for 2017

Well, Chapman is not with the Yankees at the moment, but he might be back next season. He’ll be a free agent this winter, and thanks to the trade, the Cubs can not make him the qualifying offer. That means teams will not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign Chapman this offseason. All he’s going to cost is straight cash homey, and the Yankees have a lot of that lying around.

“My job is to get as much as we can find. In the front end of the season 7-8-9 was special,” said Cashman at his end-of-season press conference when asked about signing a top notch reliever. “So my job is just to find as much quality arms, whether they’re fireballers or sidewinders or soft-tossers. The only important thing is getting outs … The more the merrier.”

Soon after the Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs, I said I expect them to pursue one of the top free agent relievers this offseason, be it Chapman or Jansen or whoever else. Chapman won’t cost a draft pick and the Yankees know him, which I think makes him their top target. Remember, they tried to sign him to an extension earlier this summer. It was only after Chapman said no to an extension that Hal Steinbrener okayed the trade, reportedly.

We’ll see what happens with Chapman and the Yankees this offseason. Either way, I expect him to shatter Jonathan Papelbon’s record contract for a reliever (four years, $50M). Jansen’s going to eclipse that too. The Yankees love having multiple elite relievers, and with Miller also traded away, signing one this offseason feels inevitable. Chapman was extremely productive in his short time in pinstripes and a reunion very well may be in order. Expect to hear a lot about these two this offseason.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 10th, 2016

Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

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