The best thing Aroldis Chapman did for the Yankees last season was bring back Gleyber Torres in a deadline deal with the Cubs. His greatest value this year may be confirming to Brian Cashman that there’s no sense in sacrificing prospects for the sake of 2017, not with a bullpen that keeps torching any effort to reverse this downward spiral.
Chapman managed to get three ground balls in the ninth inning Friday night, but he couldn’t miss any bats when he desperately needed to and didn’t record an out as the Red Sox rallied for two runs to stun the Yankees, 5-4, at Fenway Park. Chapman forced home the winning run with a five-pitch walk to Andrew Benintendi, making it 10 blown saves in the last 13 chances for the Yankees.
It was only the third time in 24 appearances this season that Chapman failed to record a strikeout, but he and Joe Girardi spoke as if Friday night’s struggle was more of a growing trend than an aberration.
“Guys are getting used to seeing hard throwers,” Girardi said.
Chapman is in the first season of a five-year, $86-million contract, so it’s not a great time to be considered obsolete. But he seemed puzzled when asked about his recent failure to put away hitters.
“Honestly,” he said through an interpreter, “I don’t know why.”
The Yankees kicked off the second half by losing for the 19th time in 26 games, a plunge that probably helps to give Cashman some clarity in how to proceed. He described the Yankees as “careful buyers” Friday afternoon and stressed the need to be “disciplined” with the July 31 trade deadline approaching.
In referring to the team’s youthful eye toward the future, he also sprinkled in a few more corporate mantras such as “trust the process” and “stay the course.” But all you really need to know about how Cashman feels in regard to gutting the farm occurred a day earlier, when the White Sox suddenly traded Jose Quintana — and he didn’t end up in the Bronx.
That’s what made Cashman so believable during his 28-minute media briefing, a conference call set up, we might add, to announce that Michael Pineda — the club’s No. 3 starter — is headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery.
The Yankees’ system is deep enough to satisfy any team’s demands, and Cashman could have matched the Cubs’ four-prospect package, headlined by outfielder Eloy Jimenez, No. 5 overall in Baseball America’s midseason rankings.
Torres is slotted third on that list. Blake Rutherford, No. 36. Clint Frazier, No. 49. Chance Adams, No. 56. There’s plenty to choose from. But if what the White Sox extracted from the Cubs is the going rate for a front-line starting pitcher — “a terrific haul,” Cashman said — he would prefer to audition his internal candidates first.
Bryan Mitchell is next up in Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader and Luis Cessa is a notch below on the depth chart. The wild card in the mix is Adams, who is a combined 10-3 with a 1.94 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 92 2⁄3 innings split between Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Trenton. Adams could be a game-changer for the rotation, but the Yankees believe he’s not quite ready yet.
“We still feel he has more work to do,” Girardi said.
Dealing one or two prospects to upgrade a single spot is not going to guarantee a deep playoff run, or even a shot at October. Cashman knows this, as do his bosses, who are thrilled that this team has exceeded expectations, as illustrated by the booming YES ratings and attendance figures that are ahead of last season’s average.
Another thing about prospects: They have the ability to significantly outperform their salaries, making them cheap, an important detail as Hal Steinbrenner seeks to get below the luxury-tax threshold for 2018.
The mission now shouldn’t be that different from what it was in December, when Cashman wouldn’t sell the farm for Chris Sale because of his belief that they weren’t one pitcher away. In reality, they’re still not, which is why he is preaching patience.
“We’re trying to keep it simple,” he said. “You just want to make good, sound baseball decisions. Trust the process.”
In other words, stick to the plan.