Once the Yankees traded for controversial flamethrower Aroldis Chapman to join their bullpen, one question immediately popped into the minds of most fans. Would 2015 Mariano Rivera Award winner Andrew Miller remain the team's closer even with Chapman in tow? It seemed unlikely given Chapman's longer track record at the end of ballgames, and on YES Network yesterday, manager Joe Girardi confirmed that Chapman would be his man.
Aroldis Chapman will be the Yankees closer heading into spring training, says Joe Girardi. https://t.co/mqBrE7bmJU— YES Network (@YESNetwork) January 12, 2016
Unlike last year, when the Yankees signed Miller and did not announce a closer between him and setup man extraordinaire Dellin Betances until around Opening Day, the team has addressed the issue right away.
The difference is, of course, that Chapman came to the Yankees as a closer whereas Miller had never closed full-time before signing in December 2014. To his credit, Miller has said on multiple occasions that he does not particularly care how Girardi uses him in the bullpen, noting "For what they're paying me, I'll do anything." It makes sense since it's not like Miller's annual salary is in arbitration and partially determined by how many saves he gets per year--his $9 million per season is set in stone.
If it were almost any other closer in baseball, it might cause a bit more of an uproar to replace the AL's top man at that position last year. However, Chapman's prestige is not some artificial construct established by a high save total, like Brian Fuentes a few years back. Since 2010, only one relief pitcher in all of baseball has rivaled Chapman's dominance: Craig Kimbrel, coincidentally now closer for the rival Boston Red Sox. Given Chapman's dominance combined with Miller's open willingness to be used in any role that's best for the team, it makes sense to just let Chapman take over in the ninth.
Chapman's suspension for domestic violence allegations looms over this whole issue, but this is the luxury of having more options like Miller and Betances out there. Both are completely fine to close for any period of time, and Girardi expressed his comfort with either of them filling in for Chapman as needed. It was possible for the Yankees to use a closer by committee of sorts rather than name a traditional closer, using whoever is most fresh on any given night to close, but while this might be ideal in off-field plans, always remember that many relievers have stated that they prefer knowing roughly when they will be pitching in each game. The last thing the Yankees need to do is throw these relief aces of their rhythm.
So in most games when the Yankees are leading after six, expect Betances in the seventh, Miller in the eighth, and Chapman in the ninth. That certainly seems to be what Girardi and Betances are thinking, anyway. At their best, these relievers are so dominant that Girardi doesn't even need to play platoon matchups with them, either. It will be up to the remaining bullpen arms like Chasen Shreve, Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren, and more to prove their merit and fill in the missing innings between the starters and whoever of the trio is ready to pitch that night, but having all of Betances, Miller, and Chapman in tow is a comforting feeling.
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