NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. - As the Yankees wait for Aroldis Chapman to pass his physical and make his whopper of a deal official, it’s safe to assume we can all agree on one thing:
Giving a closer a five-year contract that pays him $86 million sounds insane.
That’s $17.2 million per season, or $296,551 per inning, or $98,850 per out, if you go by his 58 appearances last year. We’ll consider the playoffs a freebie, a throw-in, going forward for the Yankees, who so desperately wanted Chapman that they agreed to an opt-out after the third year, giving him a chance to make even more starting in 2020.
And yet absolutely necessary. That is, if the Yankees wanted Chapman to be closing games in pinstripes in the immediate future, as the Bronx shot-callers obviously did.
There’s a number of reasons for that, and not just because Chapman is one of the very best at what he does. A pitcher who routinely throws more than 100 mph has a great deal of entertainment value, and anyone who happened to be at Yankee Stadium last season for the Chapman show remembers what it was like scanning the scoreboard after every fastball to see where it registered on the radar gun.
There’s a “wow” factor here, and the Yankees certainly put that into the equation before calculating the ridiculous number both parties signed off on.
A year ago, the Yankees alienated a segment of their fan base by trading for Chapman, who was suspended for 30 games soon after because of domestic-violence allegations that included firing his gun into a garage wall. But they determined that to be an acceptable risk in the cost-benefit analysis, and now, all these months later, that controversial swap with the Reds turned out to be a master stroke by general manager Brian Cashman.
Not only was Chapman able to rehabilitate his image in a Yankees uniform, but Cashman later traded him to the Cubs for uber-prospect Gleyber Torres — just to sign him back again, and without losing the No. 16 overall pick in the June amateur draft.
Worth it? Absolutely. So it’s pointless to quibble over cash, or worry about how awful this contract might look three years from now.
If the Yankees believe that Chapman is a critically important piece to the puzzle they’re assembling in the wake of last season’s demolition effort, then this was no time to get sticker shock. To the Yankees, being a big-market team has to do with more than a ZIP code, and getting Chapman is what those clubs do. Cashman understands that, as do those above him in the Yankees’ hierarchy.
“It’s obvious that it’s a very competitive marketplace,” Cashman said Thursday morning as the winter meetings drew to a close. “That’s what free agency is all about. It drives big contracts. You choose to stay in and try to get something done or you choose to tag out.”
The Yankees were all-in on Chapman, and the Giants didn’t do them any favors by setting the floor for the Big Three — Kenley Jansen is still weighing offers — by giving Mark Melancon a four-year, $62-million contract on the very first day of the meetings. But overpaying for a player they badly wanted is not strictly a Yankees phenomenon, and not unique to this offseason.
The Mets did a similar thing a week earlier when they signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $110-million deal, which still stands as the most lucrative this offseason. It was the second time in as many years that Sandy Alderson re-upped with Cespedes after trading for him at the 2015 deadline. And on both occasions, the Mets awarded Cespedes a record-breaking AAV ($27.5 million) for an outfielder.
It definitely helped that the Mets already were familiar with Cespedes and knew he could succeed in New York, a place that has derailed plenty of free agents. Without that prior intelligence, it’s doubtful that Alderson would have felt comfortable writing that huge check.
Cashman expressed the same sentiment regarding Chapman, who arrived with a history of dark behavior. Still, another five years feels like a long time — or even three, if it comes to that.
“It’s a volatile situation,” Cashman said, “but that’s the price of poker.”
That’s something to keep in mind two years from now, when the table limits skyrocket with the loaded 2018 free-agent class.