If Aroldis Chapman was the final piece that completes the Yankees puzzle for 2017, I would say that a five-year, $100 million contract for baseball’s hardest-throwing relief pitcher would be a steal.
But he is not, and if the Yankees decide to make that deal the only one who would make out like a thief is, of course, Chapman.
Baseball’s annual Black Friday really gets underway next Monday, when the GMs and owners of 30 teams converge on a suburb of Washington D.C. for the winter meetings.
Among the priciest items on the menu, of course, will be Chapman, who turns three spins on the radar gun as easily as Chris Christie turns three spins on his bathroom scale.
If the aim is to keep as many fans in their seats to the end of the game as possible, then Chapman is your boy, since fans love to ooh and aah over 100+ MPH fastballs, even if they can’t tell 105 from 95 without the help of the scoreboard. And since beer sales end in the seventh inning, it’s not like there’s a lot of revenue to be added by holding the crowd hostage.
But if the aim is to build slowly toward the long-term goal of fielding a consistently championship-quality winner, then the smarter move would be to take a pass on Chapman.
The truth is, research shows that even the best closers add only a win or two to a team’s final record, and we all know two wins would not have made a difference for the 2016 Yankees, nor are they likely to for the 2017 Yankees, unless a lot of other things go very, very right, such as the continued development of a half-dozen young players who may or may not comprise the core of the next Yankees dynasty.
And believe it or not, even with the three-headed monster of Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances anchoring the back end of the Yankees bullpen last season, that unit actually slightly underperformed the 2015 Yankees bullpen, which was minus Chapman but plus Justin Wilson, Adam Warren and an effective Chasen Shreve.
The 2015 Yankees were 66-3, 73-2 and 81-0 when leading after 6, 7 and 8 innings, respectively; up to the All-Star break, when both Chapman and Miller were traded away, the 2016 Yankees were 37-3, 43-2 and 46-1.
Clearly, aside from the excitement value of watching a guy throw pure fire, the presence of Chapman made no discernible difference.
The Yankees have already had their go-round with Chapman, buying low from the Cincinnati Reds last December and selling (potentially) high to the Chicago Cubs at the trading deadline. The Cubs went on to win their first world championship in 108 years with Chapman, if not entirely because of him.
For the record, Chapman was the winning pitcher in that historic Game 7, but in point of strict fact it was what is known as a “vultured win,” since he had already nearly extended the Cubs championship drought to 109 years after blowing the save, his third blown save of the post-season.
But that is not the reason the Yankees should pass on Chapman; even the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, blew a Game 7 save, as every Yankee fan will recall.
The reason they should pass on him is because there are much more useful areas in which to spend their money, and much better ways to spend the next five years besides ruing yet another contractual disaster.
Since Chapman’s game is so firmly rooted in velocity, who is to say he will be able to throw as hard as he did in 2016 three years from now, let alone five? And without that triple-digit heater, will his slider be nearly as effective? The obvious answer is, obviously not.
They would be better off going hard after Yoenis Cespedes for their outfield, or Edwin Encarnacion as their DH/backup 1B, both of whom could supercharge their lineup.
If they’re hell-bent on spending a fortune for a closer, Kenley Jansen is also out there, but he will cost them a draft pick. Better yet is Mark Melancon, who is less reliant on velocity and like Chapman was traded in mid-season, so therefore neither is he eligible for the qualifying offer the Dodgers made to Jansen, nor would he cost the Yankees a pick.
Already, I was the first to report via sources that the Yankees would go after Chapman, a stance subsequently confirmed at the GM meetings by Brian Cashman. And last week our own Ray Negron reported exclusively that Chapman would be more than willing to return to the Bronx. So there is serious interest on both ends.
But I also know that in the past, Cashman has felt the closer’s role to be overvalued, and in fact only paid the great Rivera $15 million a season — the most ever paid to a relief pitcher — because he was, well, Mariano. And that was only after a decade as baseball’s premier closer.
No matter what the radar gun says, Chapman is not Mariano, and while the economics of the game have surely changed, the value of a closer most certainly has not.
As exciting as he is to watch and as effective as he can be, the only way in which Aroldis Chapman substantially changes the 2017 New York Yankees is on the ledger sheet.
If the Yankees are going to spend $100 million dollars this winter, it should be on a game-changer. Not a game-ender.