By Chad Jennings
New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman rides in a golf cart with catcher Francisco Diaz before a spring training baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
It was four hours before yesterday’s first pitch when Aroldis Chapman settled into the press conference room at Yankee Stadium.
He wasn’t allowed to be there at game time.
After a domestic incident in October, a blockbuster trade at the end of December, and a 30-game suspension announced in early March, Chapman will officially join the Yankees bullpen tonight. It will be the first time since joining the Yankees that he’s been allowed at the stadium for a game.
“I was always paying attention to the team,” Chapman said. “Whenever I got the chance, I would watch the games on my iPad. If I couldn’t watch the game, I would look for the results and see what happened.”
What has happened without Chapman is the Yankees digging themselves an early hole. They’ve had a hard time scoring runs, they’ve searched in vain for rotation consistency, and they’ve played their way into last place in the American League East. They’re not particularly close to clawing their way out of the basement.
Is a closer really going to make a difference?
“We want to have a great unit top to bottom,” Andrew Miller said. “And it would be hard to argue that he doesn’t make us better.”
This isn’t really a question of whether Chapman is a better closer than Miller — Joe Girardi has committed to Chapman in the ninth, with Miller falling into a setup role — it’s more a matter of Chapman being better than Nick Goody or Kirby Yates or whoever he’s about to replace in the bullpen. It’s a matter of Chapman making the bullpen deeper by letting established arms trickle into earlier innings, while also making it easier to save dominant arms for another day.
- The Yankees are adding the game’s hardest thrower, who’s been an all-star closer the past four years.
- Chapman lets Miller and Dellin Betances become thoroughly overqualified seventh and eighth inning relievers to significantly shorten the game.
- Because Miller and Betances are a lefty and a righty, Girardi can play overwhelming matchups when the situation calls for it.
- Chasen Shreve and possibly Johnny Barbato can now fall into the sixth or even fifth inning, or they can give the Yankees encouraging options when they’re losing winable games.
- A deeper bullpen makes it easier to withstand a starter who can’t get past the sixth or even fifth inning.
- Whenever possible, Girardi should be able to save at least one of his top three relievers, leaving him a dominant closer option always available.
“Your hope is every night you at least have one of them available,” Girardi said. “That’s your hope. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you run into a streak where they’ve pitched a lot and maybe you don’t (have them), but if I don’t have them, that probably means we’re winning a lot of games, and that’s a good thing too.”
Surely we can all agree, Chapman’s arrival is a good thing. It clearly comes with complicated and at occasionally uncomfortable questions about the reason he was suspended in the first place — and really, the Yankees have done a pretty good job addressing those issues — but it’s hard to paint his addition as anything other than a boost.
Thing is, the Yankees really need a difference maker elsewhere.
They need Ivan Nova to step up tonight and become a viable member of the rotation. They need Alex Rodriguez to get back from his strained hamstring (or at the very least, they need to get someone else to step and provide some right-handed power). They need Jacoby Ellsbury’s injury to take just a few days, and they need him to keep hitting the way he was in the week before he got hurt. They need Nathan Eovaldi keep pitching like he did on Saturday, and they need Luis Severino to pitch like he did against every hitter who didn’t hit a home run last night.
They need a reason to use Chapman in the first place.
“Having a guy like that on the team is a great, great thing for us,” Carlos Beltran said. “We just want to see him pitch.”