TAMPA, Fla. — The Yankees tried to say all the right things Wednesday in the wake of Aroldis Chapman’s 30-game suspension, which actually doesn’t take effect for another month. Brian Cashman lauded the commissioner’s judgment, Joe Girardi believed the penalty fit the crime.
The prevailing sentiment, however, was that everyone seemed very anxious to move on to the baseball part of spring training, something that had been put on hold as the Yankees waited for Rob Manfred’s ruling. Because it dropped on the eve of the Grapefruit League opener, the Yankees spent Wednesday morning dealing with the fallout before playing the Tigers at Steinbrenner Field.
“You want your assets available 100 percent of the time,” Cashman said. “Unfortunately, life can get in the way, mistakes occur, and you have to deal with them.”
This didn’t take anyone by surprise. Cashman won’t publicly admit to the number of games he had in mind when the Yankees traded for Chapman in December, but 30 probably bumps up against that ceiling. The chance of losing him for the season’s first month was a calculated risk on the Yankees’ part, and they’re well-positioned to absorb his absence, with Andrew Miller taking over as closer and Dellin Betances back in the set-up role.
But that really wasn’t a huge issue on March 2, a day that Girardi used to watch Masahiro Tanaka cruise through his first simulated game against a trio of minor-leaguers and Luis Severino have a bumpy Grapefruit debut. Tanaka’s performance likely clears the way for him to join the rest of the rotation in exhibition games. As for Severino, whose fastball sat in the 94-97-mph range, he eventually stumbled pitching from the stretch before teeing up a grand slam to the Tigers’ No. 9 hitter, Bryan Holaday.
Girardi chooses to say Severino is auditioning to keep his spot in the rotation, even if it would take an epic meltdown to prevent him from being included. Severino looked as nasty as we remembered last season, only not quite as polished yet, which is the norm at this stage.
“You still see that it’s a power arm with good stuff,” Girardi said after the Yankees rallied from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Tigers, 10-9. “He was just a little off.”
There wasn’t much else for Girardi to evaluate. Or take all that seriously in Game No. 1 of spring training. Mark Teixeira was back playing for the first time since a fractured shin ended his season Sept. 11, and Starlin Castro, who was acquired from the Cubs in December, shined in his debut as the Yankees’ new second baseman.
Castro had a pair of hits, including a double, and also made a great defensive play, ranging behind the bag to backhand a ground ball deflected by the pitcher before throwing across his body to first. It took Didi Gregorius a few months to get comfortable last season as Derek Jeter’s replacement, but Castro — coming off an ultra-scrutinized year with the Cubs — may be more relaxed from the jump.
“I think the middle of our infield can be really good,” Girardi said.
Despite all this looking ahead, the energy focused on Opening Day, the Yankees have to leave Chapman at the team’s minor-league facility, across the street from Steinbrenner Field for the first month, when he’ll be stashed in extended spring games to tune up for his May 9 return. Otherwise, it will be business as usual for the Grapefruit League, with Chapman eligible to pitch in these exhibitions.
But as his teammates dressed for Wednesday’s opener, Chapman was doing another debriefing at his locker, one he said would be his last on the domestic violence incident. Chapman said through his interpreter that he learned a “very important lesson” and “this is something that’s going to help me mature.”
We’ll see about that. Hopefully that’s the case. Chapman was suspended for 30 games and docked nearly $2 million, but he will still get the necessary service time to become a free agent at the end of this season. Not surprisingly, Chapman admitted that was a key to accepting his punishment — and passing on an appeal.
“I think that this was an example of all parties working towards a really strong and beneficial solution,” Cashman said. So it was [mostly] back to baseball Wednesday for the Yankees, until the next time it isn’t.