NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The New York Yankees need Aroldis Chapman the way they need red socks or birdcages containing blue jays and orioles in the grand foyer of Yankee Stadium.
Not only would the aforementioned be utterly ridiculous, but the absurd notion also includes mention of the three teams that finished ahead of them in the AL East last summer, by the way. And the teams that could school them again next summer.
And yet, the Yankees agreed to terms with the closer they traded in July as midnight neared Wednesday simply because they could. The five years and $86 million that it reportedly took to entice Chapman to return not only is a record-setting deal for a closer, per Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, but it also raises more questions than answers in the Bronx.
Starting with, how many leads, exactly, are the Yankees going to turn over to Chapman without improving a rotation that ranked 10th in the American League with a 4.44 ERA last summer?
Look, all the credit in the baseball world to the Yankees for squeezing four players from the Chicago Cubs in July for Chapman, including prized shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres. Maybe Torres becomes the next Derek Jeter. He was MLB.com's 28th-best prospect in the game at the time of the deal. The kid is legit.
Between that and the haul general manager Brian Cashman received in the Andrew Miller deal with Cleveland, the Yankees beautifully kick-started a campaign to restock their organization with top-shelf young talent who can lead to the next Yankees dynasty. That's if kids such as Torres and outfielder Clint Frazier and lefty Justus Sheffield develop the way everyone in the industry expects them to. Frazier and Sheffield were considered two of Cleveland’s three best prospects when Cashman shipped Miller to the Indians in July.
The plan was going so well. Rivals soon would resume their old-time position of despising the Yankees because there would be an embarrassment of riches in Bronx talent.
Then came Gary Sanchez, who popped up in the second half of the season as if he were the second coming of Yogi Berra. Finally, the Yankees had a plan for the future and were committed to it.
We all watched them go, and few could believe they took off after ejecting Alex Rodriguez from the plans and benching Brian McCann. Even when the Yankees agreed to terms with aging slugger Matt Holliday on Sunday, they kept it together and held it to a one-year deal for $13 million to avoid clogging up another potential path for youth.
But that rotation. Ouch.
And then rival Boston this week plucked ace Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox, adding him to David Price, Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, knuckleballer Steven Wright, lefty Drew Pomeranz, on and on and on. The Red Sox, whose rotation ranked third in the AL with a 4.22 ERA last summer, went out and fed an entire case of spinach to one of their strengths. You can see the bulging Popeye muscles in that team from here.
And the Yanks add…a closer?
And on a contract that not only shatters the previous record for a closer by $24 million, but also in which Chapman is granted a full no-trade clause for the first three years and a limited no-trade in his final years. It includes the stipulation that he cannot be traded to a team in the state of California, per ESPN's Marly Rivera and Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Granted, Chapman, who turns 29 in February, is not just any closer. Yes, his cheese electrifies an entire ballpark and lights up radar guns like Christmas trees. Yes, he was instrumental in the Chicago Cubs' winning a World Series title this year.
But the Yankees are nowhere near a World Series right now.
Maybe sometime in Chapman's five-year deal they will be, and maybe then it will be time for a columnist to eat his words (been there, done that; they taste like chicken, with the faint aftertaste of crow).
Right now, Chapman teams with Dellin Betances in the back end of the Yankees bullpen, and that will make many nights easier for manager Joe Girardi. It's not as good as the first part of last year, when Miller was still around (after April, though, when Chapman returned from his 30-game suspension for domestic violence), but it's enviable.
And look, the simple fact that the Yankees acquired a very good package of players from the Cubs in July and now bring Chapman back as a free agent in one sense makes them look exceedingly intelligent. It’s what big money can do for a club, and the Yanks made smart use of that avenue. In one sense, no harm, no foul.
Combined, Chapman went 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 36 saves for the Yankees and Cubs in 2016, including a 2.01 ERA and 20 saves for the Yankees in the season's first half.
"The attraction of him is that we know he can pitch in New York, and he doesn't have a draft pick attached," Cashman told reporters this week. "Then it just comes down to money and terms."
The Yankees can do money. Always have. Kenley Jansen, the other hot free-agent closer on the market, does have a draft pick attached because the Los Angeles Dodgers made him a qualifying offer. And the fact Chapman has proved he can pitch in New York, that's not a small thing. Not everybody can. Cashman's scouting report is dead on.
But none of that is the point here. The point is…a closer? Really? Now?
It's what the Yankees prioritized, shaky starting rotation be damned.
Maybe they'll get the last laugh. Maybe Masahiro Tanaka's elbow holds together, maybe Michael Pineda and Luis Severino suddenly grow up, and maybe CC Sabathia channels his younger self. Maybe. It's a lot to ask.
Holy Mariano Rivera, what a move, even if we could see it coming practically since the day Chapman packed to join the Cubs.
But from here, it's sure not a move that closes the chasm between the Yankees and Red Sox, with the Orioles and Blue Jays still fluttering in between. Chirp, chirp.