It’s hard to think of a more complicated Yankee than Aroldis Chapman.
From the very beginning, it’s been a strange tenure. He was acquired after the first reports of a domestic violence investigation surfaced in December 2015, which allowed the Yankees to get him from the Reds while giving up less than what the market value would be for a man who was, at the time, the game’s best reliever. The four minor leaguers combined for 80 MLB games, and none from the top prospect, Eric Jagielo.
Under the then-new domestic violence policy, Chapman was suspended for the first 30 games of the 2016 season, appearing in just 31 for the Yankees before being dealt to the Cubs in perhaps the finest stroke of Brian Cashman’s career. The trade sent two months of a reliever to Chicago in exchange for Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren, and Billy McKinney. Chapman then came right back to the Yankees that winter for five years and $86 million.
And since then, before this season, Chapman was quite simply one of the elite relievers in the game. From 2017-21, he was third in strikeout rate and fourth in saves, and top-15 in both ERA and FIP. Only Mariano Rivera and Dave Righetti have more saves in Yankees history. He was never the easiest, or most stress-free, watch on the mound — the walking definition of effectively wild.
Enter Joel Sherman, who late Saturday night reported that the Yankees were exploring designating Chapman for assignment, taking him off the 40-man roster and all but ending this era of his career. Chappy’s a free agent at the end of the year, a year that has been a disaster in every sense for him, and it seems likely that his days in pinstripes are numbered.
According to the report, the Yankees — a team famous for turning nobodies into elite relievers — aren’t confident that they can find a cure for Aroldis’ mechanical ills before the playoffs, and it makes little sense to add a pitcher who can’t be trusted to the postseason roster. With only 10 days left in the season, you might as well cut bait and pay him out the $900K outstanding on his deal. Baseball, at the end of the day, is a business.
Normally, you feel a lot of sadness at this point in a guy’s career. Chapman has been a constant in the “Baby Bomber” Era, the Latin Yankees look up to him, and he is beloved by the boys in the relief corps. His high standing in the clubhouse is well-established, and he’s likely to be pushed out of baseball because he just cannot do the physical thing that he used to be able to do.
But I don’t really feel that kind of sadness.
Chapman’s always left a sour taste in my mouth; starting from the word go. The Yankees got him on a discount, because he allegedly choked his girlfriend, and fired his gun in anger eight times with her in the house, and MLB teams found out about it. Until it was reported, Chapman was being fitted for Dodger blue. He probably would not have come to New York in the first place if the discount had not been available to Cashman.
It’s impossible to think about Chapman’s legacy without that context. He was never charged, but anyone who knows anything about domestic violence knows that most incidents don’t lead to criminal charges. I know that players on the Yankees are human and they do things or think things or say things that I disagree with. However, it’s one thing to know that some guys in that clubhouse probably won’t march in a Pride parade, and its another to know Chapman did something to threaten and harm his partner, and the Yankees only got him because that lowered his relative prospect cost.
That all comes first, but of course, there’s on-field performance as well. Being a great regular-season reliever is great, but you become much more important in the playoffs, and, well:
In two straight Octobers, Chapman was THE guy giving up THE homer that ended the Yankees’ season. Adding that to his Game 7 disaster during the 2016 Cubs’ World Series run, and when relievers are needed the most, when they become the most valuable ... he just doesn’t have that legacy. Maybe it’s unfair to compare a guy to Mo, but as Aaron Judge is learning this year, when you are the star — the focus — of the New York Yankees, those comps are going to come, and Chapman has come up drastically short.
Finally, you add that postseason disappointment to the frustration of watching him when he’s off, or hurt, or wild, and I can’t help but think the Yankees can do better. One way or another, its hard to imagine the club carrying Chapman on the postseason roster. He’s been bad this year, his mechanics are all out of whack, and the bullpen has been so volatile in 2022 that they can’t really swallow the additional risk. His career with the Yankees appears to be near the end ... and I don’t care that much. Happy trails, when it’s time, Aroldis.