Andrew Miller has been outstanding as the closer for the New York Yankees. Since joining the team before the 2015 season, Miller has appeared in 72 games, struck out 120 batters over 73.1 innings, and accumulated 42 saves, all while allowing just 16 runs with a WHIP of 0.832. last season, his accomplishments earned him the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year award. But in the offseason the Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman, and by mid-January Joe Girardi announced that he would be the team's closer.
The demotion is a raw deal for Miller, who has done absolutely nothing to deserve it. Publicly, he appeared not at all fazed by the news, even after widespread speculation that the Yankees were shopping him this offseason in the hope of landing a young starting pitcher. Commenting on Chapman's arrival in February, Miller said to Billy Witz of the New York Times:
"It wouldn't be very welcoming on my end, or very appreciative on my end, toward a lot of people...I don't want to make Joe's life harder. I don't want to make Aroldis's life harder. You know, we all want to win. That's something that all the veteran guys want, that's their goal, and then hopefully the young guys see that and hopefully fall into line with that."
You have to root for players with that kind of team-first attitude, especially when the Yankees having recent firsthand experience with an elite reliever who felt too important to pitch innings other than the ninth. I will miss Miller as the team's closer, and hope that he will one day be restored to that position.
That being said, from a long-term perspective, the Yankees are making the right move by naming Chapman closer and giving him the opportunity to rack up saves. Even with the sabermetric revolution of the past few years, saves still have value on the open market, and teams will pay more to acquire pitchers who have racked up high save totals in their careers. Is this justifiable? Maybe, maybe not. But it is a reality on today's baseball market, and if the Yankees plan to shop Chapman prior to the trade deadline, he becomes more valuable as if he is the team's closer rather than a setup man.
One recent example of this phenomenon comes from the Boston Red Sox, who this past offseason acquired two key bullpen pieces: closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Carson Smith. In 2015 Kimbrel appeared in 61 games, pitching 59.1 innings, with a 2.58 ERA, 87 strikeouts, a 1.045 WHIP, and 39 saves. Smith appeared in 70 games, pitching 70 innings, with a 2.31 ERA, 92 strikeouts, a 1.014 WHIP, and 13 saves. Outside of saves, their numbers are highly comparable, but where they aren't comparable is in what the Red Sox had to give up to acquire each player.
For Kimbrel, the Red Sox traded Manuel Margot, their third-best prospect, Javier Guerra, their sixth-best prospect, plus two lower-level prospects. For Smith, the Red Sox parted with Wade Miley, but also got back Roenis Elias, a left-handed relief pitcher who has appeared in one game for the Red Sox this season. Put simply, Kimbrel was a much more expensive acquisition than Smith, even though you can make an argument that Smith actually pitched better than Kimbrel in 2015.
Of course part of acquiring Kimbrel was buying a name brand, but he is who he is by being a closer. Chapman is also a name brand, and it would help his damaged image after his suspension by inserting him into the closer role and showing other teams how he is the same reliever he has always been. If teams are willing to acquire a closer at a premium, they'd pay even more if that closer id Aroldis Chapman. As a free agent this winter, the Yankees are unlikely to sign him to a big money, long-term contract. Not with a number of other important holes to fill, and not with more than capable replacements in the form of Miller and Dellin Betances. In dealing from the bullpen the Yankees would be trading from an area of strength, and in position to acquire multiple top prospects.
Even if the Yankees find themselves in contention by July, trading Chapman makes too much long-term sense for them to pass on this opportunity. They bought low in December and should sell high around the All-Star Break. In the meantime they should do whatever they can to up his value, which is why he should be the team's closer for now.