TAMPA, Fla. — Once Aroldis Chapman knew the feeling was mutual, the closer had no desire to pitch for anyone other than the Yankees.
“I always talked to my agent that my priority was coming back to the Yankees,” Chapman said early Saturday afternoon after arriving at Steinbrenner Field. “I was surprised how much the Marlins pushed to try and sign me, but my thoughts were always I want to come back to New York.”
The Yankees made that happen during the winter meetings, signing the seed-throwing lefthander, whom they had dealt to the Cubs at the 2016 trade deadline, to the largest contract ever bestowed upon a reliever. He received $86 million over five years, with an out clause after the third year.
The Marlins, located close to the 28-year-old Chapman’s Miami home, offered a package in the neighborhood of $85 million (a deal sweetened by the fact that Florida has no state income tax), but Chapman said he wasn’t tempted.
“I didn’t want to do that,” said Chapman, who had a 2.01 ERA with 20 saves in 31 appearances for the Yankees last season before posting a 1.01 ERA and 16 saves in 28 appearances for the World Series champion Cubs.
He added later: “From the first moment I got here in spring training , the way they treated me, the attention that I got, the work ethic of this team, the clubhouse, the athletes they have . . . All those things made me feel very comfortable, and that for me was the most important and the reason I wanted to come back.”
The team Chapman rejoins is far different from the one he knew when he was traded last July. Youth can be found throughout the roster. The back end of the bullpen has plenty of experience, though, and it looks strong, led by Chapman, Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard.
“It’s going to be a good bullpen, an experienced bullpen,” Chapman said. “I think [we’re] going to be very good and some young players may have a chance to contribute, so we would like to help them too.”
After being dealt away, Chapman said he couldn’t help but pay attention to his former team, rookie phenom Gary Sanchez in particular.
Sanchez’s 20-homer performance, of course, helped spur the Yankees to a 24-13 post-deadline run that had them within three games of the division lead on Sept. 10.
“I had a chance to see that. I saw it on the news,” Chapman said. “It was very impressive, his numbers and everything he did in such a short time.”
Chapman said he wasn’t surprised by how well the Yankees played after trading him, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran. That’s the reason he’s so enthusiastic about 2017.
“This is something people talked about a lot, about this talent coming up for the Yankees, and it was something you saw coming,” he said. “It wasn’t surprising at all they were able to stay in [the race] . . . These kids came in, they were so hungry and I believe that’s why they became so successful. They really worked very hard and they were so hungry, and I think that leads to wins.”
Chapman sees some commonality between the Cubs, who captured their first World Series title since 1908 last fall, and the Yankees.
“Chicago started doing the same thing, bringing in young players in the beginning combined with veterans, and it worked for them,” Chapman said. “And the Yankees are similar in that way. They’re trying to bring in some youth and athletes that are very gifted, and I think they could [achieve] what the Cubs accomplished because of the level of talent they have.”