The Yankees have signed the crown jewel of their offseason by inking Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Now that they have settled the back end of their bullpen, the hope is that they can focus on trading for a starting pitcher. Brian Cashman is likely calling around, but given that this is a seller’s market, it wouldn’t be surprising if nothing ends up working out. We know what the team ultimately decided to do, but things could have been a lot different if they had signed Brad Ziegler instead.
The 37-year-old closer has remained effective in his old age, making him the target of multiple teams desperate to add any kind of bullpen help they can. At one point, back during the Winter Meetings, the Yankees were in contact with Ziegler about a potential deal. When you consider they also showed interest in Sergio Romo, it is clear that they were doing their best to construct a plan B in case a deal with Chapman couldn’t be worked out.
Chapman agreed to his new contract following the Winter Meetings, and according to reports, the Yankees had not been in serious contact with Ziegler since. Given their lack of interest in him compared to the higher profile closers on the market, a deal not working out isn’t really the problem. The swollen market for relief pitching eventually earned Ziegler a two-year, $16 million deal with the Marlins. As good as he has been as a closer, a multi-year deal for a pitcher nearing his 40s is absolutely the wrong direction for this organization to go in anyway.
The real problem is the fact that the Yankees have run out of money. They were reportedly unable to afford Ziegler’s contract demands—$8 million a year—now that they have Chapman on the books at $17 million a year. The issue is that with the holes this team still needs to fill (the current rotation is incredibly bad no matter how much you like Luis Cessa), they decided that their best course of action would be to sign a relief pitcher to a record-shattering deal.
Sure, there wasn’t really much available on the free agent market this offseason to begin with, but that’s not an excuse for fiscal irresponsibility. Remember when the Yankees had all that money they didn’t spend on Robinson Cano so they gave it to Jacoby Ellsbury instead? How has that worked out? If you have extra money and nothing to spend it on, you add someone like Matt Holliday on a one-year deal. It’s harmless. Locking up a veteran to a long-term contract simply because you had the money to burn rarely equals success.
This isn’t even about Chapman himself, because at least for the three years before his opt-out clause, the left-hander will probably do just fine. But what about a trade? If they need to cut payroll—likely in the form of trading Brett Gardner—before they can take on another starting pitcher, was the money they invested in their closer really worth the price? Maybe they would have been better off with two lesser relievers instead of one Chapman, I don’t know. Again, this is not about Chapman himself.
I just think it is ironically hilarious that the Yankees are crying poor immediately after giving out such a huge contract. Their payroll is sitting around $130 million right now, add in around $22 million in arbitration along with tax penalties and player benefits, and the team is already well over the luxury tax threshold.
I get that the Yankees want to reset their tax penalties to fill Hal Steinbrenner’s pockets, but if they are already over the limit, why not keep going if it is a short-term expenditure? If they are signing a closer to a $17 million deal, you would think they should be able to add payroll elsewhere.
Chapman alone doesn’t make this team a winner, having a better overall team would do that. Obviously we don’t know what happens from here, maybe the Yankees have a different budget when it comes to adding another reliever versus trading for a starting pitcher. However, if they end up doing nothing because the Chapman contract has eaten away their offseason allotment of money, well then I hope you’re all ready for one long slog of a season.