Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Rather than wait for Spring Training to see how things play out, Joe Girardi and the Yankees have named their closer for the 2016 season – Aroldis Chapman. I was surprised by the announcement, not because I don’t think Chapman is good enough, but there is a lot of downside in making preemptive announcements like this. He is our third closer in as many years, and I would have thought with Andrew Miller’s success last year, this was a settled issue. You cannot blame them for trying to improve though I would have probably invested in other parts of the roster. I can see the strategy around the announcement, but the opportunities for pitfalls abound.

First, it settles the issue. There is no added pressure to either Miller or Dellin Betances. We avoid any extra drama going into the season that might distract the team. It also gives the players involved a chance to process it away from the cameras. By the time they report for camp and the cameras rush to either of them asking how they feel about the closer situation, they will have rehearsed their lines, say that they’re here to do whatever they can to help the team, etc. There is much less chance they’ll say something to rock the boat.

The downsides are numerous. First, he might not even be on the Opening Day roster. Remember that he has unfinished business with MLB’s investigation into violations of its Domestic Abuse Policy. If he gets a lengthy suspension, which is not out of the question, you may be facing the first few weeks of the season with someone other than your closer closing games. Second, we have not actually seen Chapman pitch in pinstripes. We have seen this a thousand times before. Just because you can play, does not mean you can play here. If he stumbles out of the gate, Joe Girardi could end up with egg on his face.

It reminds me of 1978 when Goose Gossage was signed by the Yankees at a time when they already had a closer – Sparky Lyle. Sparky had just won the Cy Young. Miller is the reigning AL Reliever of the Year, and he lost his job to a fire-balling fastball closer. Eerily similar, if you ask me. The difference is that when the Yankees signed Gossage, they presented it as having two closers. Even though the lion share of the opportunities went to Goose, they both started out the season as closers. It’s a good thing too. Goose stumbled mightily out of the gate. He gave up a walk-off home run in his first game as a Yankee. He gave up a two-run lead in his second game for his second loss in as many games. It would be nearly three weeks before he would be trusted again with a save opportunity, and he promptly blew the save. It wasn’t until May 3 of that year – in his 8th game and the 22nd game of the season – which he recorded his first save. By then, Sparky Lyle had amassed a 2-0 record with four saves in five opportunities (the one opportunity he did not convert he was able to hold a tie until Reggie Jackson hit a walk-off in the bottom of the ninth). The point is, they let both pitchers close and let the situation play out. Over the course of the season, the closer decision was based on performance, not on the presumption of performance.

I think this spring training is going to be more interesting than ones in the recent past have been. Many eyes will be on Aroldis Chapman, to see how he will do. The two big questions he will face are how well he pitches under the pressure that comes with pitching for the New York Yankees, and when will he be able to actually start his season.

--Ike Dimitriadis, 
BYB Senior Staff Writer
Twitter: @KingAgamemnon

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