Three years from now, we will find out if the New York Yankees learned anything from their mistakes in re-signing Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia.
Because in three years, history tells us that Aroldis Chapman — who loved playing for the Yankees so much he left some money on the table to return to them — will opt out of his deal, looking for a raise.
At that point, it will be up to the Yankees to make an unblinking assessment of the situation and decide whether they want to make the same mistake not twice, but thrice.
Although it has not been finalized yet, Chapman’s deal is for five years and $86 million, with a limited no-trade clause. And one important caveat: Chapman will have the right to opt out after his third season. (I’ve already written my opinion of re-signing Chapman 10 days ago; you can re-read it here. )
According to sources I spoke with on Thursday, Chapman gave up significant coin in deciding to play for the Yankees over the Miami Marlins, who had offered $87.5 million over the same five years, an offer that came with the added inducement of no state tax, which any of us who live and work in New York knows amounts to a hefty sum.
So Chapman was sincere in his desire to return to the Yankees in spite of only having been one for three months. But three years from now, history tells us he will walk, if only because no player bothers to insist on an opt-out clause unless he intends to use it. In fact, the only time a player would not exercise it is in the event of a disaster, such as disabling injury or subpar performance, in which case the Yankees will be praying for him to use it.
But let’s assume Chapman performs up to expectations between now and 2019, and as expected, opts out.
At that point, the ball, so to speak, will be in the Yankees’ court.
And judging by their own recent history, the odds are they will make the wrong decision. And that decision likely will be made by people whose expertise and interest are in matters other than winning baseball games.
In other words, people above the pay grade of GM Brian Cashman.
How do I know? Easy.
In 2007, Cashman quite publicly declared that if A-Rod opted out of the 10-year, $252 million deal negotiated for him by Scott Boras at the expense of the Texas Rangers, he would be an ex-Yankee in 2008.
Lo and behold, people above Cashman — namely, Hank Steinbrenner and Randy Levine — overruled the GM and awarded Rodriguez a new 10-year deal, with a raise ($275 million) plus a home run bonus provision that came back to embarrass them after A-Rod was suspended for 162 games for steroid abuse. Not to mention, of course, that the Yankees will be paying Alex Rodriguez $21 million to not play ball in 2017.
Still, that wasn’t enough to deter them four years later when someone not named Brian Cashman decided to not even allow Sabathia to test the waters — he had not yet officially exercised his opt-out clause — after his admittedly excellent 2011 season, hastily signing him to a five-year, $122 million extension on Halloween Night, a contract that will pay Sabathia $25 million in 2017.
Although Sabathia had a surprising good 2016, since signing that extension, his record is 47-45 and more alarmingly, his ERA over that period shot up nearly a run, to 4.51.
The A-Rod deal was clearly masterminded by people who valued marketing over baseball performance, and ignored evidence that Rodriguez was a PED scandal waiting to happen. The Sabathia deal might have been gratitude for his role in helping the Yankees to the 2009 World Championship — he was the ALCS MVP — but ignored signs that Sabathia’s career workload was about to catch up with him.
In any case, both turned out to be deals the Yankees would come to sorely regret.
Will they learn from their history when Chapman’s time comes, or will they reflexively repeat it? Time will tell. Chapman will be pushing 32 at that time, and perhaps the radar gun readings will make their decision a no-brainer. Or maybe not.
At the moment, however, the signing of Chapman apparently ends the serious acquisition phase of the Yankees off-season. Stymied in their hopes of landing Chris Sale — a team source told me an equivalent package to what the Red Sox gave up for Sale would have cost them Gleyber Torres, Luis Severino, Jorge Mateo and a lower-level pitcher such as the newly-acquired Abraham Abreu, and still would likely not have been enough — the Yankees are satisfied to have added Matt Holliday and Chapman to the cast of youngsters that will populate their everyday 2017 lineup.
Holliday — whose stats are disturbingly similar to Travis Hafner’s at the time he became a Yankee for the utterly forgettable 2013 season — was a second choice, I would guess, to a return of Carlos Beltran, who signed with the Houston Astros for $16 million, $3 million more than the Yankees gave Holliday, and was given a full no-trade clause. Holliday’s relative youth (37 on Opening Day as opposed to Beltran’s 40) was a big factor, as was the no-trade, because as good as he still is, if there’s any player you would like to have the option of trading at the deadline, it is Beltran, since his career post-season performance is still respected around the league.
So at this point, it appears the Yankees starting pitching staff is likely to remain unchanged going into spring training — Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Sabathia are the 1-2-3, followed by whoever emerges from a competition between Severino, Adam Warren, Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Bryan Mitchell — and Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, Greg Bird and one of the Aarons, either Judge or Hicks, are expected to play virtually everyday. (Phenom Clint Frazier, with only a smattering of AAA games on his resume, is not expected to hit the Bronx until 2018).
Dellin Betances, once again, will be the set-up man, and of course, Aroldis Chapman, when needed, will close things out.
That last part should hold for the next three years. After that, it will be up to the Yankees to show us whether they have learned anything from their past mistakes, or if they are doomed to repeat them.