By Ernie Palladino
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Brian Cashman might well have been looking toward 2017 when he traded Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for a gaggle of prospects.
What is surprising is that he may have included in that long view the possibility of bringing back the closer with the triple-digit fastball to once again anchor the bullpen.
The Yankees’ long-time general manager never was a dummy. When he sent a handful of nothing minor leaguers to Cincinnati for Chapman even before his domestic violence suspension was up, he correctly envisioned what turned into a seventh-through-ninth-inning shutdown triumvirate. But when inconsistent starting pitching and a lineup that nobody feared turned the Yanks’ playoff hopes into a longshot proposition, Cashman disbanded the Dellin Betances-Andrew Miller-Chapman alignment near the trade deadline.
We all know what happened after that. The Yankees went on a youth movement, and Miller, the new Cleveland Indian, and Chapman, the new Cub, made World Series history.
It’s those kids that bring Chapman into play again. While Cashman knew he’d probably be saying goodbye forever to Miller, under Cleveland’s control through 2018, Chapman has hit the open market.
According to owner Hal Steinbrenner, the Yanks are interested.
Think about this. If the Bombers do bring Chapman back, they’ll have pulled off an amazing feat. In addition to gaining top-flight prospects Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, and Rashad Crawford, along with former Yankee arm Adam Warren, they might get baseball’s hardest thrower back for around the same four-year, $75 million it would have taken anyway, assuming the Dodgers keep an expected bidding war at skirmish levels.
It’s not those minor leaguers that make this potential move so attractive, however. The current youth movement could have two of a group that includes Warren, Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, and Chad Green joining Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia in the five-man rotation.
With Sabathia getting a year older, Pineda’s inconsistency last season, and a natural desire to go easy on the young arms, the Yanks will look to shorten up the game.
That means improving the quality of the bullpen.
Right now, they have a good closer in Betances. But to put him back into his seventh-inning and setup role he excelled in the last two years while Miller — and then Miller and Chapman — anchored the back of the bullpen, would put the Yanks in fine position again. The two losers of the rotational competition could handle the earlier innings if necessary, as all four have relief experience.
There’s no doubt about the windfall the Miller and Chapman trades brought. Torres is the Yankees’ top-ranked prospect, according to Baseball America. Clint Frazier, the centerpiece of the Miller trade, is No. 2.
Frazier could see some action next year if he shows he can hit Triple-A pitching consistently. Certainly, his power would be a welcome complement to the offensive potential of kiddie corpsmen Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and Rob Refsnyder.
It’s not that Chapman is the only quality closer on the market. The Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen or the Nationals’ Mark Melancon would also look good in pinstripes. Either could potentially do a fine job.
But Chapman has been here already. He has proved he can work and succeed under the bright lights of New York.
The Yanks will have pulled off a wonderful parlay in sending a successful closer away for a valuable investment in the future, and then getting him back less than a year later.
It would stand as the owner’s and general manager’s mastery of the long view.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino