ALCS - Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers - Game Three

Four years later, 2009 free-agent pair comes up big in LCSs

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Headlined by three players, the post-2009 season MLB free agent class was undoubtedly the weakest seen in at least a decade. The prizes: Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday (acquired from the A’s earlier that summer), Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay and Angels right-hander John Lackey.

The field was so bad that the fourth biggest contract went to Chone Figgins (four years, $36 million from Seattle). Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman (six years, $30.25 million from the Reds) and left-hander Randy Wolf (three years, $29.75 million) were the only other players to get contracts worth a guaranteed $20 million.

The big question at the time was whether the Red Sox would re-sign Bay or try to upgrade to Holliday in left field. Instead, they shocked pretty much everyone with their play for Lackey, signing him to a five-year, $82.5 million contract in mid-December. They added Mike Cameron on a two-year deal at the same time to officially take themselves out of the mix for the top two outfielders.

Bay went on to sign with the Mets two weeks later, getting a guaranteed $66 million over four years. About 10 days after that, Holliday reupped with the Cardinals for $120 million over seven years. The Orioles were also reported to be in the running for Holliday, but that might have been mostly posturing. Before signing Lackey, the Red Sox reportedly offered Holliday the same five-year, $82.5 million deal that the right-hander received, then moved on when it was declined.

Obviously, of the long-term contracts, only those given to Holliday and Chapman worked out as hoped. Lackey, though, has earned his money this year. He and Holliday both came up very big on Wednesday, with Lackey pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Boston’s 1-0 win over Detroit and Holliday hitting a two-run homer in the Cardinals’ 4-2 defeat of the Dodgers.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how much different things would look right now if the Red Sox had stepped up and signed Holliday, as many thought they would. Lackey had a solid first season in Boston before posting a 6.41 ERA in 2011 and missing all of 2012 following Tommy John surgery. Cameron was injured and rather ineffective in his Boston stint. Obviously, Holliday would have been great to have around in the middle of the order from day one. However, if the Red Sox had signed him, they probably wouldn’t have landed Adrian Beltre on a bargain one-year deal later that winter. Those two went on to produce very similar numbers in 2010.

One thing is for sure: if the Red Sox had signed Holliday, they wouldn’t have given Carl Crawford a seven-year, $142 million contract to play left field the following winter. And if they hadn’t done that, there’s no megatrade with the Dodgers a year ago (perhaps they also don’t trade for Adrian Gonzalez in the first place).

And if the Cardinals had missed out on Holliday? Well, it doesn’t seem like they had any interest in Bay, so they probably would have dodged that bullet. It also isn’t very likely that they would have ended up with Lackey. Perhaps they would have signed Beltre instead, though that would have meant bypassing David Freese at third base. They also could went after Johnny Damon as a left fielder and leadoff man.

For the long term, without Holliday, one imagines there would have been no 2011 World Series championship. There likely would have been more pressure to re-sign Albert Pujols, and if the Cardinals could have gotten that done, not only would they probably be stuck with maybe the game’s worst contracts, but they could have missed out on Michael Wacha, who was selected with the Angels’ pick in the 2012 draft (also, the Angels very well could have ended up with Crawford in this scenario, making it even more likely that Pujols stays in St. Louis).

In the end, it seems that everything worked out for the best. Well, not for the Mets, obviously. And the Mariners.  And the Angels. And, lets face it, 2011-12 weren’t too peachy for the Red Sox. But it definitely worked out best for the Cardinals, and I’m sure at least half of you will tell me that’s really all that matters.

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 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

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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.