Rebuild. Transition. Call it what you want. The Yankees want star players in their prime as part of the process, and Aroldis Chapman fits the bill.
Presumably pushed by ownership and relatively consistent with GM Brian Cashman's roster construction blueprint, the Yankees made signing Chapman their priority at the onset of the offseason.
Team owner Hal Steinbrenner views Chapman as a way to keep ticket prices where he wants them, and Cashman sees the light at the end of the tunnel where it concerns utilizing the flame-throwing left-hander's talents to their fullest. There are significant benefits to the deal and there are certain risks.
While Chapman was their first choice, they did present an offer to free agent RHP Kenley Jansen, and investigated the trade market, where they were linked to former closer David Robertson. However, Jansen would have cost the No. 16 pick (a slot that can still improve) in the 2017 First Year Player Draft, and Robertson or any other trade might have cost significant assets from the newly stocked farm system. Cash is still king with the Yankees and they proved that with Chapman.
The fact of the matter is the Yankees believed the best way to improve their roster was to add an elite closer. The Yankees understand that they have a slew of question marks in the starting rotation that cannot be easily resolved this offseason, but by adding Chapman to a bullpen including Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Tommy Layne, and a contingent of talented pitchers who might lose rotation jobs, they have a sure strength. The Yankees' bullpen might not be as strong as it was in 2016 when Andrew Miller was in the fold, but it is no doubt better now that Chapman is back.
The Yankees are being questioned for splurging for an elite closer when they do not seem to be one step away from being World Series contenders, combined with the cost-cutting measures they have taken in recent months. The timeframe in which the Yankees might be ready to be serious contenders -- based on the talent readiness in the farm system and the ability to spend when more dead-weight contracts come off the books -- is at least a full year, likely two years away.
I too had some reservations about the Yankees' pursuit of Chapman because of their current situation, and a lot of that has to do with last season's results. The trio of Betances, Miller and Chapman was electric, but the rest of the club was unable to manufacture leads and/or hold leads in middle innings.
As currently constituted, the rotation is not better despite being filled with upside potential, and the offense has a handful of uncertainties as well. Does it make sense to break salary records for a closer now?
The Yankees' reasoning has a lot to do with Chapman's age, his athleticism, and a golden left arm. The Yankees feel Chapman will age well because he takes good care of himself. By the time system hopefuls Clint Frazier, James Kaprielian, and Gleyber Torres reach New York, combined with the anticipated splurge in the free agent market before the 2019 season, Chapman will only be 31. The Yankees feel Chapman's abilities provide an outside chance for a postseason berth in 2017 and 2018, but from 2019 to 2021, the Yankees are hopeful he helps make them World Series favorites.
The Yankees do have some issues they might need to sidestep along the way. The first is one that cannot go away because it's a clause in the contract: Chapman can opt out of the deal after the third season. We've already mentioned that the Yankees' seemingly closest season in which they might be considered World Series contenders is 2019.
This puts significant pressure on the Yankees to reach and maybe win the World Series before they have to worry about Chapman opting out. Of course, they could still re-sign Chapman if he opts out, but who knows what the salary requirements will be at that time and what other roster issues the organization might have.
Another potential issue is the amount of use Chapman will endure this season and next, before he is likely to be leaned on the hardest and under the toughest circumstances.
In my opinion, the Yankees will need to be extremely careful with Chapman early on in the contract, dependent wholly on the team's standing in postseason races. Manager Joe Girardi cannot push Chapman out to the mound in the eighth inning of a game in which they hold a five-run lead. While I understand winning as many games as possible, Girardi is going to have to trust others in the bullpen this season. But that's another issue for a separate article.
Regardless of how Girardi uses Chapman, the southpaw's ability to dominate is mostly about his fastball velocity. Chapman has a good slider and changeup, but fastball speeds in the 100-103 mph range on a consistent basis is what makes him tough to hit. If Chapman is unable to maintain that speed in the latter parts of the deal, he might become easier to hit and thus possibly unworthy of such a large contract.
In my view, Chapman will have to work on refining his ancillary pitches as his velocity declines in order maintain an edge over hitters. We saw what happens in the World Series when his fastball drops into the high 90s. He becomes hittable.
Another issue with Chapman stems from a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend last season in which he was never arrested or formally charged. While Chapman paid his dues as far as his profession is concerned -- he was handed a 30-game suspension by Major League Baseball -- the ordeal will rightly follow him forever and as is their right, some fans will not allow his actions to be swept under the rug.
As much as Steinbrenner believes Chapman is an attendance draw, the pitcher's indiscretions will keep others away from Yankee Stadium. Hopefully, Chapman has learned his lesson and steers clear of any such incidents for the remainder of his life, let alone his time in pinstripes.
The Yankees felt that they had to make this move to improve their team now and that it puts them in an enviable position as they become more competitive in the future. The club likes the fact that signing Chapman does not impede prospects and it allows them to keep their first round pick in the next amateur draft.
There are risks involved, but the deal tips toward being beneficial to the club rather than detrimental as it stands and when understanding the methodology going forward.