There is upside with the Yankees' 2016 rotation, and don't let anyone suggest otherwise. Even if you rightfully assume that CC Sabathia's current ceiling is more Aaron Harang than David Price, it's a rotation with serious talent. Masahiro Tanaka has Cy Young stuff, and Luis Severino was a 21-year-old rookie who acclimated beautifully to a tough pitching environment. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi are both young-ish fireballers with immense, untapped potential.
There is downside with the Yankees' 2016 rotation, and you figured as much. Sabathia hasn't been good since 2012. All of the nice things you can say about Tanaka, Pineda, and Eovaldi have to be followed with a loud "IF HEALTHY." Severino is exactly 11 starts into his major league career.
The way to balance the two wasn't ever going to be by acquiring better starting pitchers. If the Yankees weren't going to shop at the Zack Greinke/Price tier, there wasn't much sense in paying just under $100 million for a league-average starter like Mike Leake. It would be tough to improve upon the risk-reward offered by Pineda and Eovaldi, and Tanaka and Severino are a fine start to any staff. There was no way for the Yankees to avoid having a cross-your-fingers rotation, not without giving a Sabathia-like contract to someone replacing Sabathia, a concept that understandably made the Yankees nervous.
No, if the Yankees weren't going to buy a David Price or exchange one of their potential-laden young pitchers for a pitcher with even more potential, the only way to pitch better was always to acquire yet another super-reliever. They got the most talented reliever in the game, perhaps. Certainly one of the most unique and hardest to imitate. No one throws as hard as Aroldis Chapman. No one in history has ever thrown as hard, as often, as Chapman has. He's a freak of nature, a term that gets thrown around too loosely, which is unfortunate when you're looking for ways to describe him.
To explain just how ridiculous the Yankees bullpen is now, first remember that there will be blowouts. The Yankees will win some, they'll lose some, and at no point will they be tempted to bring in Chapman, Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller. They played 64 games last year decided by a four-run margin or greater, just to give you a rough idea. And then there are the games in which the starting pitcher is rolling, pitching through the seventh and eighth, and maybe even into the ninth.
This leaves about 80 to 90 taut games in which the Yankees will have three of the best relievers in baseball to pitch from the seventh inning on. It's absolutely absurd, a luxury popularized by the Royals and taken to its laughable conclusion now. For at least 33 percent of every game, the Yankees will have three pitchers among the best in baseball at limiting runs. That seems important.
From my editor, @marcowill: Chapman, Miller, Betances in 2015 had 212 IP, 121 H, 14 HR, 93 BB, 347 Ks, 1.70 ERA. Like a Cy Young starter.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 28, 2015
Right. They built the Bullpen Avengers by developing a pitcher, throwing money at one and acquiring the latest one without giving up any of their top prospects.
What a coup. Goodness, what a bullpen. The Yankees might not be favorites now, but you can certainly envision how they might succeed with the talent they have on hand.
And that's the entire story of how the Yankees improved their team with a favorable trade.
Oh, right, well, there's one other point to bring up, I suppose. It's more of a technicality, really. Here goes: Aroldis Chapman might be a goblin. He might be an extremely damaged human being, and his temper and lack of restraint might violate legal, moral and ethical boundaries. Even though he could have helped all 30 teams win more baseball games, most teams refused to even consider him. The Dodgers are under as much pressure to win as any team in the game, but they declined to finalize a trade for Chapman because of an ongoing domestic violence investigation. They ducked out because of the scrutiny, most likely, though we can hold out hope that basic ethics factored in, too. They had a chance to improve, just like the Yankees. They chose to do anything else, instead.
The Yankees, though, looked at Chapman like an outlet store steal, chuckling that his price was "modified," which meant they just couldn't help themselves. They weren't interested in giving a possibly violent player a chance ... unless the prospects were right! The deal was just too good to pass up -- Ha! Ha! -- twist my arm!
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman suggested the team did their due diligence, which insinuates that they researched Chapman's issues and found nothing to discourage them. It's more likely, though, that due diligence in this case was as simple as asking a simple question:
Will fans care about the allegations against Chapman?
To which the answer came, so predictably:
Not if they win, they won't.
There will be think pieces and one-off columns about Chapman if the late-inning Cerberus is a success, and they'll get louder if the Yankees advance in the postseason. They'll be in the background, though. They won't lead to Yankees fans booing their own player. The muffled outrage won't hurt the franchise's brand. They'll sell just as many tickets. They'll reach just as many cable boxes. The hats and jerseys will still move well.
It's not like I'm so very righteous, here. I've written a hagiography about a player who had similar charges leveled against him. I've waffled through two decades of "well, I don't really know" and "could be a he-said/she-said kind of thing" that all translate to, "He helped fill my brain with sports endorphins, so I'm just going to close my eyes and hope he isn't really a monster."
Now Yankees fans will get to do the same thing, and most of them won't even have to trick their brain into working that hard. The allegations against Chapman won't be forgotten entirely, but they aren't going to lead the coverage if he succeeds with the Yankees. If you think that's too cynical, read the coverage of the Tigers trading for Francisco Rodriguez. Maybe every fifth one mentioned his 2012 arrest for domestic violence. Maybe. Most of the evaluations focused on him being a fine reliever who could help the Tigers' bullpen struggles. The further we move from the initial reports, the easier it all is for everyone to ignore.
Domestic abuse allegations are definitely a bigger deal than they used to be, though. Consider this tone-deaf USA Today column, in which a National League executive actually said this:
"Yeah, we know talent can cover up some character flaws, but domestic violence is such a hot topic now."
Yeah, it's just so trendy to care about men hitting women. Except the Yankees saw a couple moves ahead, and remembered that people still don't look too carefully at the warts of a winning team. Considering that there wasn't an arrest made, the team's risk might be limited to the games Chapman loses to a suspension and minimal harm to the brand. In exchange, the Yankees added another incredibly talented arm to a bullpen that already had a couple of them.
All we can do is scream louder and more often whenever Chapman's name is mentioned. If you think that doesn't make a difference, consider how much easier this would have been to ignore 10 years ago. Instead of executives talking about how domestic violence is a hot topic, the future might be filled with executives talking about the repugnance of employing people accused of unspeakable crimes. It's not going to happen overnight, but it seems to be the direction we're heading, cross your fingers.
Until then, the Yankees got better, and we're all a little more cynical. That means the Yankees are the real winner here, apart from the piece of soul they dropped along the way. They'll probably win more games. The average person won't care. That's how this works, and we shouldn't be surprised.
One day, this won't feel like a rerun. It sure does now, though.
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Reviewing 2015: It was just a great f**king year in sports
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