What? Did you think the New York Yankees were going to steer clear of star players all winter?
Guess again, friend. The Yankees have gone and acquired a rather big star. In so doing, they have set their immediate future up for quite a bit of intrigue.
As Jack Curry of the YES Network was first to report, the Yankees struck a deal with the Cincinnati Reds on Monday to acquire flame-throwing relief ace Aroldis Chapman. Per the Yankees' Twitter, here's the full deal:
New York Yankees @Yankees
#Yankees acquire LHP Aroldis Chapman from Reds for RHPs Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis & INFs Eric Jagielo, Tony Renda. https://t.co/2u3dACe6en2015-12-28 21:36:16
Before this, the biggest move the Yankees had made this winter was a roll-of-the-dice trade on the ever-unpredictable Starlin Castro. Suffice it to say, this trade is a bit bigger than that one.
It is, though, also something of a dice roll in its own right.
The elephant in the room here is the alleged domestic violence incident that Chapman was involved in back in October. As Jeff Passan and Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reported, the alleged details involve Chapman choking his girlfriend and firing a gun in anger. MLB's investigation into the matter could still lead to a suspension for the 27-year-old left-hander.
That and the bad public relations surrounding the situation were enough to scare the Los Angeles Dodgers away from an agreed-upon trade with the Reds. It was also apparently enough to lower Chapman's trade value.
But for the Yankees, this is obviously the bright spot. The Yankees can expect to face criticism—and not unwarranted criticism, mind you—for welcoming Chapman with open arms while he's tied to such a hot-button controversy, but it's frankly hard to say they're making a mistake.
MLB.com's rankings state that the Yankees are not giving up any of their top five prospects for Chapman, which makes the package they're paying look laughable relative to those paid for fellow relief aces Ken Giles and Craig Kimbrel this winter. And though we don't know what the Dodgers were going to trade for Chapman, Craig Edwards of FanGraphs is right to speculate it wouldn't have been this mediocre.
If Chapman isn't suspended, the Yankees will have paid a small price for a full season of his services. If he is suspended, they could actually come out even more ahead in the long run. A small suspension will only sideline him for a portion of 2016. As Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports pointed out, a longer suspension could delay Chapman's free agency until after 2017.
In other words: This is a questionable PR move for the Yankees but also a strong baseball trade. The only unknown now is where they go from here, and the two possible directions they can go in are both appealing.
Door No. 1 involves the Yankees simply adding Chapman to what they already have in their bullpen and going from there. At this, please try to contain your excitement.
What the Yankees already had in their bullpen, of course, was right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Andrew Miller. They combined for a 1.74 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 145.2 innings in 2015, making them the most dominant duo of relievers in the sport.
And now along comes Chapman. Using a steady stream of triple-digit fastballs and wipeout sliders, all he's done since becoming a full-time closer in 2012 is post a 1.90 ERA in 255 appearances, striking out a staggering 16.1 batters per nine innings along the way.
With Chapman in the same bullpen as Betances and Miller, whether the Yankees' bullpen now boasts the best trio of relievers in baseball history is a fair question to ask. At the least, this note from MLB.com's Andrew Simon makes it clear that the Yankees have the modern game's three most overpowering relievers all under one roof:
Andrew Simon @AndrewSimonMLB
Highest K% in MLB, 2014-15: 1. Aroldis Chapman, 46.3% 2. Andrew Miller, 41.6% 3. Dellin Betances, 39.5%2015-12-28 21:22:21
This is where it's hard not to think of the Kansas City Royals and all the success they've enjoyed with a three-headed bullpen monster over the last two seasons. And though the Yankees' roster isn't as complete or well-balanced as the Royals', there's no question they're going to be able to shorten games as well as the Royals have been able to.
According to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, that's the whole idea for now. But as Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported, Cashman is also open to Door No. 2:
To anyone who's been paying close attention to the winter rumor mill, the idea of the Yankees trading Miller shouldn't come as a surprise.
Of all the ways the Yankees could shed some payroll, trading Miller and the $27 million remaining over the three years left on his contract is arguably the only one within reach. He's also one of the only established players they have who could bring back something of value in a trade.
For example, a starting pitcher. Joel Sherman of the New York Post has reported that trading Miller for a starter has been on the club's mind, and that makes sense. The Yankees' rotation has talent, but depth is needed to account for the question marks hanging over Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and CC Sabathia.
But then, it's not a given that the Yankees would target a starting pitcher in a trade involving Miller. According to Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York, Cashman believes his rotation is "full." One therefore wonders if he'd only move Miller to fill another need, such as an outfield upgrade.
Wherever Cashman decides to go from here, it'll be hard for him to make his trade for Chapman look like a bad baseball move. It may be a questionable move from a PR perspective, but the Yankees are either getting a truly epic bullpen or a more complete team out of it.
If you were waiting for the Yankees to do something a little bolder this winter, well, there you go.