NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Despite all the rebuilding discussion, and the youthful makeover, and Hal Steinbrenner’s budget talk, some things never change in the Bronx.
The Yankees can still be the Yankees when they choose to be.
Brian Cashman wanted Aroldis Chapman back from the minute he traded him to the Cubs last July and made no secret of those intentions, right up to the point where the two sides agreed Wednesday on a five-year, $86-million contract that secured his return shortly before midnight.
Maybe you got distracted by last July’s historic fire sale, when Cashman sold off his most valuable pieces for highly-coveted prospects, a very un-Yankee-like maneuver but one the GM deemed necessary to reboot the franchise.
The end of an era, we thought. It was the dawn of the leaner, more flexible, financially-agile Yankees, nimble enough to shed bad salaries while restocking the system for another extended run of success. But that narrative only goes so far, and when you’re the Yankees, it’s necessary to flex some big-market muscle on occasion, just to let everyone know you still mean business.
That’s what went down with this Chapman signing, and as expected, both the total package and the $17.2-million average annual value for the contract is a record for closers. As a result, Mark Melancon’s reign ended at roughly 48 hours, with Chapman’s deal dwarfing his four-year, $62-million pact with the Giants ($15.5M AAV).
Once again, we’re reminded that the Yankees will go to considerable lengths to acquire their top target, and spend whatever it takes. The courtship of Chapman had that feel from the very beginning and Cashman showed up at these winter meetings determined not to leave without again fitting him for pinstripes.
On the surface, the logic seemed twisted, opting to pay a closer somewhere north of $80 million to put him on a team that claims to be rebuilding with younger, cheaper, farm-nurtured talent. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to just install Dellin Betances as closer, as the Yankees did after trading away Chapman and Andrew Miller last July, and maybe use that money for other needs, such as middle relief help or even another starting pitcher?
It was a sensible argument. But one that Cashman, with money burning a hole in his pocket, didn’t subscribe to. The Yankees passed on Chris Sale, the best possible option to quickly upgrade the rotation, because the price in prospects was just too great. Even letting him go to the Red Sox, of all places.
But that didn’t mean Cashman intended to punt on the 2017 season. By again pairing Chapman with Betances, the Yankees are hoping to recreate an area of strength for a team that Cashman believes is rapidly on the rise — without sacrificing any of his prospects or even a first-round draft pick, which moved from 17 to 16 Wednesday with the Rockies signing of Ian Desmond.
Whatever the Yankees had to give up for Chapman, it was only money. And that’s rarely been a deterrent for this franchise when the front office really, really wants something.
“We have a chance to significantly improve our club,” Cashman said Wednesday before the deal was completed.
In shooting down Sale, Cashman insisted that these Yankees were more than one player away. And dealing away a package of prospects would be akin to taking one step forward with Sale and two steps back in terms of building a team to contend over a more prolonged period. Chapman is only one player, too. But this $86-million transaction doesn’t hurt the Yankees’ development and stays consistent with the Cashman blueprint of trying to remain competitive during the maturation process.
Not only does Chapman now assist the Yankees in those goals, his July trade to the Cubs brought back a major piece in that restoration effort, the universally-praised Gleyber Torres, who at 19 was the youngest MVP in the history of the Arizona Fall League. And while he was away, Chapman helped the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908.
Not a bad little swap by Cashman. But that trade looks even better now with Chapman back, and the Yankees doing what they do best.