Rangers' Lee throws against the Giants during Game 1 of Major League Baseball's World Series in San Francisco

Jayson Stark thinks the Phillies might be the “mystery team” interested in Cliff Lee

21 Comments

We’ve had great fun today with Jon Heyman’s mystery team, but the nagging thought remains: what if there actually is a mystery team?

To be clear: even if a new team interested in Cliff Lee’s services emerges beyond the Yankees and the Rangers, Heyman is not vindicated.  His peddling of “mystery team” reports appears to be nothing more than the non-critical passing along of what an agent tells him.  There is no attempt to analyze this new information. To use his vast experience in the hot stove game to contextualize it for readers. He’s a mouthpiece as he currently presents this kind of information, not an information source of any value.

Not so other reporters, such as Jayson Stark. He writes today that he put some thought to who might actually be a suitor for Cliff Lee other than the Yankees and the Rangers. His answer — which he notes is merely his own educated speculation, not a scoop of any kind — is the Phillies.

On the one hand, you can’t discount Stark when he’s talking about the Phillies because he knows them more than just about any major reporter knows a team. When I mentioned to him on Twitter that the Phillies interest in Lee wouldn’t make sense in light of the fact that they traded him away a year ago, his response was “that was then; this is now.” If things truly have changed in the Phillies’ front office, Stark would know before most of us would.

But I still have a really hard time seeing the Phillies as serious players for Lee. The reason they traded Lee a year ago is because they didn’t want to pay him anything approaching a market rate for the contract extension Lee and the Phillies briefly negotiated. Why then, a year later, would they go into nine-figure land with him? Especially when they already have the strongest rotation in the National League by a hefty margin? In between the “that was then” and the “this is now” would have to be a sea change in the Phillies’ organizational strategy, the likes of which are not apparent by any other move that they’ve made.

As such, if the Phillies are in on Cliff Lee, my guess is that it’s not as a serious player. Perhaps they inquired. Perhaps they submitted a low offer for some reason.  Either of those things would give Lee’s agent enough cover to where his whispers of a “mystery team” would have a sheen of honesty to them.  But only a sheen. Because it would be a supreme long shot to expect Lee to sign to a big below-market offer in Philly given what we’ve seen from his negotiating tactics.

Thus, if Lee’s agent is actually peddling Philly as a “mystery team” to credulous reporters, he’s being a bit too cute in my view.  And if credulous reporters run with it without taking the time to at least do what Stark does and try to think through it a bit, they are too.

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

chapman
9 Comments

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 exception 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

gettyimages-577291896
Getty Images
12 Comments

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.

*

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.