CHICAGO — It was bittersweet for Hal Steinbrenner to watch Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman — two relievers the Yankees traded — star for the Indians and Cubs, respectively, in a thrilling World Series.
But Steinbrenner knows the Yankees can get one of them back with a flick of his pen. For, oh, about $100 million or so.
Chapman, whom the Yankees traded to the eventual World Series champion Cubs, is a free agent. General manager Brian Cashman has already reached out to the flame-throwing lefty’s agents about a possible reunion.
Sounds as if the owner is on board.
“For us, it’s about priorities,” Steinbrenner said on Wednesday at the baseball owners’ meetings. “For me, I think the bullpen is my probable priority because I think we’re going to have a young pitching staff and I think if we can shorten the game for them a bit by really strengthening the bullpen, I think that’s going be to our advantage.”
Chapman isn’t the only free-agent closer out there. But unlike former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, Chapman will not cost the signing team a first-round draft pick. And the Yankees already know and like Chapman from the half-season he spent in the Bronx.
“Any time you can get a guy that’s already proven he can play in New York . . . then that’s a plus in the column,” Steinbrenner said.
Trading away Chapman wasn’t painful for the Yankees because he was going to be a free agent at season’s end anyway. But dealing Miller was difficult, Steinbrenner said, because the lefthander was under team control for two more years.
“Look, my family wouldn’t talk to me for a couple weeks,” he said. “That was a sensitive one. Unbelievably great individual and that was a tough call. But when you have the ability to get the four players we got . . . it has to be a deal that good to consider getting rid of a guy like that. There’s no doubt we missed him and there’s no doubt we missed Chapman.”
They might not have to miss Chapman for long. The Yankees were the only team to not sign a major-league free agent last offseason. That probably won’t be the case this time even though baseball and the players union are still working on a new collective bargaining agreement that could alter the free- agency rules somewhat.
“I don’t think it’s going to impact it much as far as where we’re going to be,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve got money coming off the payroll for the first time in a few years and we’re going to put a decent portion of it back into the club like we always do. How much remains to be seen depending on what our needs are and what’s available.”
One of the details yet to be worked out is what the new luxury tax threshold will be. The Yankees have never been below it. They plan to change that eventually.
“My long-term plans haven’t changed,” Steinbrenner said. “My long-terms plans are to get below the threshold, whatever the threshold is . . . We’re going to continue to work on lowering payroll. Now that we finally have what looks like good young players, it’s going to give us some flexibility that we just haven’t had the last few years.”
One of those young players is Aaron Judge, who Steinbrenner would like to win the rightfield job despite the slugger’s struggles making contact in his first big-league exposure. The owner sounded less enthusiastic about going after a big free- agent outfielder such as Yoenis Cespedes.
“As far as Aaron Judge, I’m looking for him to be the guy,” Steinbrenner said. “He’s got some work to do, clearly, on his swing. And he will. He’s going to be in Tampa, I think, in a few weeks for a while along with a couple of our hitting coaches.”