The Yankees came into the offseason seemingly determined to spend huge on a closer, and as a result, they’ve handed out by far the largest reliever contract in baseball history. Aroldis Chapman is back! The hard-throwing closer reached agreement to return to the New York Yankees last night- an $86 million deal for five years. There’s an opt-out after the third year. The deal includes a no-trade clause for three years, and the Yankees can’t trade him to a team in California. A little odd, but what ever.
That Chapman was able to score himself this kind of contract isn’t that surprising. In a season split between the Yankees and Cubs, the 28-year-old Cuban lefthander struck out 90 men in 58 innings, and posted a 1.55 ERA with 36 saves. That marked Chapman’s fourth year out of the last five with an ERA of 2.00 or below, and since becoming a full-time closer in 2012, he has posted a strikeout-per-nine rate of 14.0 or higher every year. Featuring a fastball that routinely breaks 100 mph and a wipeout slider, Chapman is borderline unhittable at times, and after being acquired by Chicago at the trade deadline, he was a key piece of the team’s World Series run.
All those stats are well and good, and Chapman will pair with fellow flamethrower Dellin Betances to give the Yankees an enviable 1–2 punch in the later innings that will be hard for any team to counter. But he’ll be doing so for a team that, unless everything breaks right, likely won’t have much need for a shutdown closer. Mired in .500-level mediocrity throughout the first half of 2016, the Yanks chose to sell and rebuild, dealing Chapman, fellow elite reliever Andrew Miller and veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran; that tack continued this winter, with the team trading catcher Brian McCann to the Astros for two minor leaguers. All those deals have brought back a plethora ( I love that word…lol) of good prospects—Chapman returned top young shortstop Gleyber Torres from Chicago—but all of those players are at least one or two years away from making a real impact.
I do have a concern. $86 million is a lot of money for a guy who’s real impact won’t be felt for a season or two. There’s also the question of how much longer you can expect a pitcher who throws 100 mph over and over again to hold up. We all know how often Joe Giardi loves to go to his bullpen. By the end of the postseason, Chapman was clearly gassed; he blew Chicago’s eighth-inning lead, and in his final frame of the World Series, he abandoned his fastball and threw his slider almost exclusively.
It was said that Hal Steinbrenner liked the “buzz” that Chapman brought to Yankee stadium. I think what he really meant is, he will help fill seats while the youth movement develops into quality major leaguers, making the Yankees legitimate contenders again. While that sounds good, the Yankees Must work on starting pitching. Without rebuilding the rotation, it will be more than one or two years away that the Bombers get beyond a wild card game.
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