Yankees may have to decide between Aroldis Chapman or an ace starter

I believe the Yankees went so far as to not only trade for Zack Britton in 2018 but handsomely re-signed him last winter because keeping Aroldis Chapman wasn’t their top priority. Signing a pitcher like Gerrit Cole is, or at least should be.

For the back in my day crowd, there’s no doubt the Yankees would have offered Didi Gregorius a $17.8 million qualifying offer, extended Aroldis Chapman another four years, re-signed both Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances for at least what they took home in 2019 ($7.5M and $7.25M, respectively), and definitely thrown $200M-plus at a free agent pitcher such as Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg.

But that world where the luxury tax didn’t come into play for George M. Steinbrenner no longer exists. So I chuckle when people tell me that the Yanks are the wealthiest team in the sport — and that’s why they can sign whomever they want.

While the first part is mostly true, the Bombers had the third-highest opening-day payroll in 2019 ($206.41M) — behind the Cubs ($208.2) and the Dodgers ($213.19). For comparison’s sake, the World Series champion Nationals came in fourth, spending $181.4M.

Next season’s luxury tax is only expected to raise $2M to $208M, and if the Yankees are to legitimately make a run at Cole or Strasburg, who each could fetch as much as $250M on the open market, the front office is going to have to let so previously important pieces walk.

The first, potentially being the 2019 AL Reliever of the Year, Aroldis Chapman.

I get that it seems counterproductive to allow the top closer in the league to opt-out of his deal without offering a hefty extension, but Chapman has already made it clear — if there’s no extension on the two-years, $30M left of his contract — he’s out.

Naturally, that’s his right and it doesn’t come as a surprise, but the Yankees need to consider if Chapman is worth $18M-plus per season when a top of the rotation starter will likely cost $22-27M.

Even after opting out, New York can offer Chapman a one-year, $17.8M qualifying offer, which he’ll surely turn down in search of Wade Davis (3-years, $53M) type deal. At least the Yanks would gain draft pick compensation in return.

There’s no doubt when Chapman is in a groove; he’s still one of the games best — entering his age-32 season. Although his fastball is down a few ticks, Chappy’s become a savvier shooter, relying more on his slider over the past two seasons– like the one, he threw high and outside, that Jose Altuve hit to clinch the ALCS. OK, that’s not a good example.

Should Chapman seek greener pastures, the Yanks’ bullpen takes a hit, but it should rebound just fine with Zack Britton sliding into the closer role. With or without Betances’ return, Adam Ottavino will pitch better than he did during the postseason, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green and a host of other suitable arms are more than capable of picking up the slack.

Besides, a tired, overworked bullpen that the Astros saw way too much of in the ALCS was one of the Yankees’ most significant issues. Therefore, adding at least one top-flight starting pitcher will alleviate stress on the bullpen — especially during the playoffs.

The only worrying thing I’ve read so far is Hal Steinbrenner’s comment to Dan Martin of the NY Post — that the rotation, as is, gives him confidence.

“If the 2020 season was to start tomorrow, I would feel considerably more confident than I did a year ago at this time,’’ Steinbrenner said. “We will have both Severino and Montgomery back. We now know that [Domingo] German can pitch effectively at this level. And we know [James] Paxton can be the guy that we were hoping for when we made that trade. We have [Masahiro] Tanaka, [J.A.] Happ, [Jonathan] Loaisiga, and perhaps [Deivi] Garcia at some point. A very good rotation.’

For me it’s simple, you rob Peter to pay Paul. Chapman is Peter in this scenario. Either ace that pitched in the World Series can be Paul.

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