The New York Yankees didn't make the playoffs in the 2016 season when they had star closer Aroldis Chapman for half the season. And they aren't likely to in 2017, either, even after bringing back Chapman on a big free-agent deal.
Baseball's Winter Meetings are winding down, and finally the New York Yankees -- who used to own this stage under former big-spending owner George Steinbrenner -- have made waves. The Bombers have brought back Chapman on a five-year, $86 million deal. The question is: Why? New York is still only the third-best team in the AL East on MLB picks behind the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays and likely at least one year, probably two, from true World Series contention.
There's no question the Cuban lefty is a great closer. No one throws harder than he does. Since Chapman's first season in 2010, he has 2,241 pitches at 100 MPH or faster, more than the next seven pitchers on the list of MLB leaders combined. This past season, Chapman was throwing harder than ever. He threw 111 pitches that reached 103 MPH, almost four times as many as any other pitcher in a season in the last five years.
Chapman was acquired last offseason by the Yankees from Cincinnati in a trade. He was suspended the first 30 days of the year for violating the domestic violence policy. Chapman pitched well for the Yankees and stayed out of trouble. But because New York had no realistic pennant hopes around the trade deadline, he was sent to the Cubs for prospects -- including Chicago's best. Chapman was key in the Cubs winning the World Series, but they never made an effort to re-sign him.
In a season split between the Yankees and Cubs, Chapman 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.
So in that sense, it looks like a great deal for New York that it beefed up its farm system and then got Chapman back. But the Yankees had other major needs, starting pitching mainly (granted there's not much out there on the free-agent market), to fill. They already have All-Star right-hander Dellin Betances in the bullpen. He's at least Chapman’s peer in terms of missing bats and preventing runs. How good will the 28-year-old Chapman be in two years when the Yankees are finally ready to contend? A slip in the quality of his fastball could ruin him.
Given GM Brian Cashman's past stance on paying closers big money, this seems like a strange move for him to make. The only other reliever to receive a five-year deal in MLB history was B.J. Ryan in 2005 for $47.5 million. Ryan was released in the middle of his fourth season. Chapman's contract is the largest in MLB history for a reliever.
New York is currently +1800 on BetOnline MLB odds to win the 2017 World Series.