Aroldis Chapman Looking Like an $86M Mistake
August 16, 2017

New York Yankees' general manager Brian Cashman has received an unusually high amount of praise from fans for his work over the last two years, and deservedly so.

In December of 2014, Cashman traded Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius, who has gone on to become one of baseball's better shortstops. Later that same day, he signed reliever Andrew Miller to a bargain 4-year, $36 million deal.

A year later, he dealt John Ryan Murphy for Aaron Hicks and soon acquired a middle of the order bat, Starlin Castro, for only Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan. That same offseason, Cashman pulled off a deal for closer Aroldis Chapman, sending the Reds a package of four players who have collectively amounted to nothing up to this point.

When it became clear that his Yankees weren't contending last season, Cashman made the decision to sell pieces, most notably dealing Chapman to the Cubs for Gleyber Torres, who has become one of the game's top prospects, while also shipping off Andrew Miller to Cleveland for two potential franchise pieces in Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. All of these moves have been successes, and most have set the Yankees up for future success.

This past offseason, however, Cashman might have gotten a bit overzealous. The Yankees weren't expected to spend big with no high-profile starting pitchers on the market, but they did hand out the richest contract for a relief pitcher in MLB history. Less than five months after dealing Chapman to the Cubs, Cashman brought the all-star closer back on a 5-year, $86 million deal.

Yankees fans seemed to rejoice at the fact that they landed Gleyber Torres and still ended up with Chapman in the end. While the trade itself was fantastic, handing over more than $17 million per year to a relief pitcher was concerning from the start. Many teams are able to build a competent bullpen largely based on homegrown talent, simply by plucking pitcher after pitcher out of the minor-leagues until something comes together. To pay this much for one reliever was not only unprecedented, but also highly risky.

Fast-forward eight months, Chapman's contract is already looking borderline disastrous. Through 37 appearances, Chapman has a 3.89 ERA with 16 saves and four blown saves. Since May 7, Chapman's ERA is 5.40.

His last three appearances have been particularly disastrous. On Friday, he walked the bases loaded against the Red Sox and only avoided a blown save due to Aaron Hicks' excellent throw to double up Eduardo Nunez at third base. On Sunday, he surrendered a game-tying home run to Rafael Devers before coming back out for the 10th inning and putting two runners on base. The Yankees went on to lose that game, and Chapman was charged with both earned runs. Just last night, Chapman "earned" the save after surrendering a two-run home run to Amed Rosario.

At this point, it's safe to say Chapman would not currently be the Yankees' closer if he weren't getting paid more than $17 million this season. Not only has he been far too erratic to remain in the role, but Joe Girardi also has an arsenal of great relief weapons - Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green - at his disposal.

Just about every closer goes through struggles during his career or even during one season, but this seems different. Chapman has not been the same since coming off the disabled list in June, and it's difficult to pinpoint one central problem with his performance. He is wild, but even his pitches in the strike zone haven't been getting the job done.

Could this be permanent? Chapman used to live and die on overpowering hitters, but the rest of the league's pitchers have seen a collective increase in velocity in recent seasons and hitters are adjusting.

Chapman is a fastball pitcher, and if he can no longer thrive on that pitch, he is a broken pitcher. If Chapman is unable to develop other pitches, this might be more than just one rough season.

With some solid talent on the free agent market this offseason and a potentially historic group of free agents set to hit the market after 2018, the Yankees will be active. It would be much nicer, however, if Brian Cashman had an extra $17 million per year to spend.

It's no secret that the Yankees would either be in the same position or better off without Chapman this season, yet his record-breaking contract remains on the books through 2021. Perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction, but the one colossal mistake of the last three years for Brian Cashman (don't worry, Ellsbury's deal was worse but came four years ago) appears to be going for a second serving of Aroldis Chapman.

 

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