Yankees fans, are you ready for High Octane, Part II?
According to baseball sources I spoke with on Thursday, the Yankees will be in hot pursuit of free agent Aroldis Chapman this winter. Chapman, of course, was the tainted relief pitcher the Yankees bought low from the Cincinnati Reds last winter and sold high to the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline.
Now, with Chapman having been instrumental in helping the Cubs snap their 108-year championship drought in Wednesday’s epic Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians, he hits the free agent market seeking a multi-year deal probably worth upwards of $15 million per year.
The Yankees aren’t scared off by the numbers, a source tells me, although their renewed stance on Chapman comes as a surprise considering GM Brian Cashman’s oft-stated aversion to overpaying for a closer, a position he considers overvalued.
It should be recalled that in 2011, Cashman publicly opposed the club’s decision to sign Rafael Soriano to a three-year,$33 million deal, allowed David Robertson to walk rather than match a four-year deal with an average annual value of $11.5 million, and traded away not only Chapman but Andrew Miller, one of the nastiest closers in the game, despite his relatively affordable $9 million salary, preferring to go with the comparatively inexperienced (and much less expensive) Dellin Betances as his closer.
But the impact of Chapman and Miller on their teams in the post-season was not lost on the Yankees, who rightly dealt both of them at the deadline in order to re-stock their farm systems. But now the team seems prepared to open its checkbook in an attempt to get one of them back.
Miller, signed for two more years, is not an option, but Chapman is, especially since having been traded in-season, is not eligible to receive a qualifying offer and thus would not cost the Yankees a draft pick if they sign him. Another available free agent closer, Kenley Jansen, is eligible for a QO, making them less attractive.
So the Yankees are definitely going to take a close look at Chapman Redux. “They’re going to be in on Chapman,’’ said a baseball source with knowledge of the club’s thinking. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to sign him, but they’ll definitely pursue him hard.’’
Clearly, the Yankees saw the same things their increasingly troubled fan base – for whom seven years without a World Series title must feel like 108 — saw as the Cubs celebrated on the Progressive Field turf early Thursday morning after their heart-stopping8-7 victory in 10 innings.
They saw a (mostly) young Cubs team, the nucleus of which (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks,Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez) is under team control for the next several years, a stud starting pitcher (Jon Lester) locked up until 2021 – and a closer who regularly hits three spins on the radar gun who might once again be a Yankee if the price is right.
That formula concocted by Cubs GM Theo Epstein is the one the Yankees are trying to emulate with their stockpiling of young talent such as Gleyber Torres (acquired in the Chapman deal) and Dillon Tate (acquired in the Carlos Beltran deal), and Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield (acquired for Miller). Shortstop Torres and right-handed pitcher Tate were voted to the Arizona Fall League all-star team, and Frazier remains highly touted despite a rather high strikeout rate in AAA. So the elements are there in the Yankees farm system as well as on their roster; starting jobs occupied by the likes of Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann (average age 37)last season are expected to be assumed by youngsters Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge,Tyler Austin and Greg Bird.
Once again, Adam Warren (re-acquired in the Chapman trade) will compete this spring for starting job, as will Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery.CC Sabathia, who pitched well in 2017, and Michael Pineda, who did not, will be back as well.
But the Yankees still need a top-line starting pitcher to go along with Masahiro Tanaka at the top of the rotation, and a lock-down closer like Chapman would certainly complete a much more solid roster than the Yankees fielded in 2017.
According to the team sources I spoke with, the White Sox’ Chris Sale is an unlikely option (“I hear they want Sanchez, Judge, Sheffield, Frazier and Julio Mateo,” one told me), but it is not outside the realm of possibility the Yankees could pry loose Gio Gonzales from the Nationals or Robertson from the White Sox in exchange for McCann, if he could be persuaded to waive his no-trade clause. There is also the possibility McCann could agree to return to the Atlanta Braves – his off-season home remains in Atlanta – in exchange for prospects, although that would likely require the Yankees to assume some of his $17 million per year salary.
Based on conversations I had with McCann during the season, I can tell you this is probably more likely to happen than not; he had been told in no uncertain terms that the starting catching job was no longer his but Sanchez’, and at 33, McCann still sees himself as a starter. He would probably agree to go to a team that planned to catch him every day, and all three of the teams mentioned above could use a starting catcher.
This is not to say that signing Chapman and dealing McCann, preferably for a starting pitcher, will have the Yankees dancing on a baseball field a year from now.
“We still have work to and we’re being very methodical about it, trying to avoid mistakes that could cost us long-term,” Cashman said on Thursday. “We’re not just one piece away. But we’re starting see light at the end of the tunnel.”
That light might just shine again on Aroldis Chapman and his 105-MPH heater at Yankee Stadium in 2017.