For starting pitchers, there is a certain comfort to having a lock-down bullpen and, with the Yankees’ signing of star closer Aroldis Chapman last week, CC Sabathia can already feel it.
“I’m excited to have [Chapman] back,” Sabathia said after participating in the Yankees’ 23rd annual holiday food drive at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday morning. “He’s obviously a great piece for us. He went on to do his thing in the World Series with the Cubs. I think it’s going to help our bullpen and help Dellin [Betances] and [Tyler Clippard] and those guys at the back end of the bullpen. I’m looking forward to it.”
Sabathia, of course, knows first-hand about the magic of Chapman. The lefty fireballer pitched to a 2.01 ERA with 20 saves in 31 appearances for the Yankees last season before being traded to the Cubs on July 25.
“It’s exciting when he comes in,” Sabathia said. “It just lights up the stadium.”
Chapman signed a five-year, $86-million deal and rejoins a bullpen that, along with Betances, has the potential to be one of the best in the game.
“You feel good when you have a strong bullpen,” Sabathia said. “Obviously, we had [Betances, Chapman, and Andrew Miller] — probably the best three relievers in the game at one point [last year] in our bullpen. That makes it a lot of fun. With the guys that we have now, you have that same kind of relief, where you could go out and pitch a good game and feel like the game is shut down once you get to those guys.”
Sabathia said he had a good feeling about a Chapman reunion after seeing him at a golf event sponsored by David Ortiz earlier in the offseason.
“I got a good sense that he was coming back then,” Sabathia said. “Him and Dellin talk a lot and I talk to Dellin all the time. He had a good experience here and wanted to play here. I felt good about him coming back.”
Chapman will rejoin a team awash with young talent — catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Tyler Austin and outfielder Aaron Judge, to name a few. Despite the potential for growing pains and youthful slip-ups, Sabathia believes they can contend.
“It is a team in transition,” he said. “Obviously, watching all the young kids come up and do what they did last year was fun. Hopefully, they can keep it going and can carry us to the playoffs this year.”
The Yankees were 32-26 in the final 58 games of the season.
“Look at the way we played at the end of the year last year,” Sabathia said. “Obviously [Sanchez] coming up and doing what he did was huge. But I think we can [contend]. I think the young guys here are talented enough that they can carry us where we want to go.”
As for his own health, Sabathia, who will be pitching in the final year of his contract, said he is on track to be ready for spring training after having surgery on his right knee in October.
“It’s just rehabbing,” Sabathia said. “I’m down here a couple times a week, just making sure that I get my strength back. I’m trying to get my mobility back and make sure that I’m ready to go come spring training.”