Scenes from Spring Training: A day with the Twins, Part 1

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Twins pitchers throwing.jpgI woke up bright and early, had the worst cup of coffee you’ll ever get
in the lobby of a major chain hotel, stopped at a 7-11 to get a better
cup of coffee and then headed to the ballpark. Why a 7-11? Because the
entire State of Florida appears to consist of densely-landscaped eight
lane thoroughfares lined with strip malls that are almost, but not
entirely impossible to enter after you realize that there might be
something worth entering them for. Like, say, a Starbucks.  When I
tried to get the GPS in my car to find me a better coffee place than
the 7-11 it wept and then committed suicide.

To the ballpark.  Allow me to say that the folks who work for the
Twins at Hammond Stadium are the nicest people on the planet.  I get
lost a lot whenever they let me out of my mother’s basement, and each
time I got lost, someone in a blue shirt kindly showed me where I
needed to be.  One of the guys working on the press level — Art — was
particularly nice. Turns out Art lived in Columbus for several years
where, among other things, he coached Paul O’Neill when he played high
school baseball.  Art and I chatted about Ohio a bit and then I was off to the Twins’
clubhouse, where Dustin the media guy told me I might want to be for A
Big Announcement.

“You signed Mauer?” I asked.

“Um, no,” Dustin replied.

“I think you should wait until Opening Day in the new park, then
announce you’ve signed him right after the National Anthem. The place
will go nuts!” I offered, quite proud of myself for thinking of
something so clever.

“Say, that’s . . . that’s an . . . interesting idea,” Dustin replied, scanning my eyes for signs of The Crazy. “I think I’ll mention it to Bill next time I talk to him.”

I sure hope he gives me credit!

I made it downstairs and, because I’m me, I couldn’t find the
clubhouse entrance.  A nice man in a blue shirt named Richard (the man, not the
shirt) pointed the way, telling me to “Look for Dominic. He’s working
the clubhouse door.” We had joked a bit when I first walked up to him,
so I left joking “I’ll tell Dominic you said it was OK if brought out a
couple of jerseys and bats and things for my kids.” Richard said “don’t do that, or
I’ll have to kiss the ring twice.”

I didn’t know what he meant until I met Dominic, the older, bespectacled
but undoubtedly formidable gentleman who signed me in to the clubhouse.
I made a similar joke with him about stealing stuff, and Dominic calmly,
but a tad too seriously for my tastes, said “You look like a nice boy. I’d hate to
have to break your legs.”  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say
that Dominic has lived a colorful life.

Once inside I waited with some other reporters in for The Big News
about Joe Nathan. In hindsight I wonder if the whole team knew it yet,
because the mood was pretty upbeat. Twins players had just been given a
copy of the team media guide. Jon Rauch — whose neck tattoos and sheer
height are much more impressive in person than on TV — was walking
around and bragging to everyone that he had two career hits (“says so
right here!”).  Gardenhire walked by at this point and Rauch said “hey
Ron, I have TWO career hits!” with a big dumb smile on his face.
Gardenhire — channeling Lou Brown — kept walking and grumbled “well, good for you.”

We’d soon learn that Gardenhire had other things on his mind.  I wonder
if one of those things was figuring out if Rauch’s hitting prowess was
worth wasting in the closer’s role.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the excaption because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed,  I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.