Typically when a team gains a player via trade - especially when it concerns an elite star - it results with a resounding answer to a previous weakness. The New York Yankees acquisition of Aroldis Chapman surely makes the team stronger on paper, but it also brought more questions to an offseason already overflowing with them.
First, and maybe foremost, the subject of Chapman's domestic violence arrest and MLB's impending decision on a suspension has far reaching and potentially long-term effects.
From simply a moral stance, how will fans react to the club taking on a man accused of choking a woman and then firing a weapon in his garage? Is this who Chapman is, and is he someone the Yankees should associate themselves with? Further, will Chapman cause the Yankees more harm than the good his powerful arm delivers?
From a business perspective, if MLB does levy a suspension against Chapman, it could eliminate him from free agent eligibility after the 2016 season and push it to 2017. According to FOXSports' Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi, if Chapman is suspended for longer than 34 days, he will not accrue enough service time to become a free agent after the 2016 season. That surely benefits the Yankees. But, will the suspension be so lengthy that he has minimal impact in the 2016 season?
Beyond the link to domestic violence and everything that follows from that, there are a multitude of on the field consequences and subsequently more questions.
There is no denying that Chapman makes the backend of the bullpen that much stronger than it already was. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were downright electric for much of 2015, and were poised to replicate their roles in 2016. But, as good as Betances and Miller are, Chapman is the better of the three. Chapman's strikeout rates are mind-numbing, and his arsenal is relentless.
One area I do not expect a problem with is how Betances and Miller will mentally handle Chapman coming aboard. Miller has already noted that he just wants to win and will handle whatever role Yankees manager Joe Girardi puts him in. Meanwhile, Betances stressed the same all of last season when Miller was garnering save chances.
While the Yankees might have to resort to a Betances/Miller combo in the beginning of the season if Chapman is suspended, he's the likeliest of the three to be closing at season's end barring injuries. The backend of the bullpen was not a problem before Chapman came along, and the Yanks still have the same issue with him on board. Who are the guys in the middle relief roles that can effectively spell Betances and Miller?
The Yankees have a slew of options, but they are all young arms with minimal Major League experience. Jacob Lindgren, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos, Nick Rumbelow and Chasen Shreve all project to be viable options, but none of them rise to the level of Betances, Miller and Chapman.
As of the end of August last season it looked as if Shreve was ready to be the man for any high-leverage situations that arose in the sixth inning, but his September performance is a cause for concern. Was Shreve used too often and simply tired down the stretch? Or did he surpass expectations over much of the season and his ceiling is not quite as high as it looked midseason 2015?
Mitchell could be a key to the bullpen, but with an abundance of injury-plagued rotation arms, he might be better served stretched out and ready to step into a role as a starter. As for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle arms, they all have pluses, but the uncertainty of their readiness to contribute to a full season of work in the majors brings more apprehension than comfort.
Without a solid fourth and fifth reliever in middle relief roles, the Yankees might once again be employing Betances and Miller at rates which could sap their performance level in late summer and early fall. This is especially true with Chapman expected to be unavailable for a period of time at the beginning of the season. And it's an even bigger concern when the rotation is taken into account.
The starting staff is a key to how successful the back end of the bullpen can truly be. Unlike the rotation's performance in 2015, Yankees' starters need to push themselves deeper into games in an effort to lower the load placed on the bullpen, especially the power arms at the back end.
Only Michael Pineda (6.0) and Masahiro Tanaka (6.4) tossed six innings or more per start on average of all New York's starters last season. Nathan Eovaldi (5.7), Ivan Nova (5.5), CC Sabathia (5.8) and Luis Severino (5.7) were all at or below league-average (5.8) in 2015. That's a stressful number of innings per game to place on the relief corps. If the Yankees are playing in close games, the necessity of turning to one of the backend arms becomes more pronounced, and the notion becomes worse if no one steps up of the potential middle relief crew.
The Yankees hold a distinct advantage in having three relievers who could close for any team in the league. The Yankees are better with Chapman aboard, but the true measure of their success will be determined by the rotation's ability to pitch deeper into games and strengthened if one or two middle relievers step up their game. If Girardi feels inclined to use Betances, Miller and Chapman more than one inning at a time in an effort nail down winnable ballgames as they come, the club's relievers could find themselves in the same position they did in September/October; tired and on vacation before they want to be.