They're affectionately referred to as the Evil Empire. The New York Yankees lived up to their nickname this offseason by intersecting sports -- typically an escape from reality -- with crime.
If the biggest move of their offseason didn't revolve around employing an alleged violent criminal, then we could overlook the social commentary. Instead, we have to stare right at it while it stares back at us. We've been forced to lock eyes with something that we never want to address. Granted, it's easier to just ignore. We could look at the pretty pinstripes and just choose to avoid the fact that Aroldis Chapman -- the best closer in baseball -- was acquired for almost nothing because he got into a disagreement with his girlfriend and let off some steam by firing a gun in his garage. And that's just what Chapman admitted to doing.
Many of us choose sports as an escape. Many of us may even see his 30-game suspension as fair and just. As a society's debt fully paid. But as we learn more about athletes -- as their lives become magnified because that's what we think we want -- we're learning that sports don't actually operate outside of the social commentary which we try to avoid at all.
I could have written the Yankees preamble and just avoided the topic. But that would be remiss. It would be negligent and deplorable. Because when I see Chapman throw a baseball at 100mph or more next season, I won't wonder what makes that guy tick anymore. Because as employable as his abilities make him, nothing excuses the fact that Chapman is the exact opposite of the reason we watch sports.
They say not to meet your idols. It's becoming clearer that athletes should never have been our idols in the first place. And only if we address the morality of the Yankees offseason can we address the rest.
The Free Agents
The Yankees free agent signings are a veritable who's who of who?
In total, the Yankees made zero major league commitments in the free agent market. Which seems kind of uncharacteristic for the front office led by a guy with the last name 'Cashman.'
Instead, they opted to sign Chris Parmelee, Carlos Corporan, Deibinson Romero, Jonathan Diaz, Donovan Solano, Cesar Puello, Vinnie Pestano, Richard Bleier, Sebastian Valle, Domingo German, Kyle Higashioka, and Francisco Diaz to minor league deals with invites to spring training. Riveting stuff.
Jumping right into it, the Yankees traded away Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, and Tony Renda for Chapman. A 28-year old pitcher with fewer than 10 innings of major league playing time, a 22-year old pitcher at Double-A, a 23-year old third baseman also in Double-A, and a 25-year old minor league second baseman. All for the best closer in baseball.
Breaking down this trade is in itself a conflict. There's the fact that the Cincinnati Reds got ripped off. However, the Reds should also be commended for parting ways with someone like Chapman, regardless of the business side of the move.
Then there's the fact that Chapman was actually rumored to be acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the Yankees trade. However, it fell through because these allegations surfaced. The Dodgers apparently have a more stringent moral code.
Other than that, the Yankees acquired Starlin Castro for Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan, which comes with its own set of moral problems. Castro, who became expendable to the Chicago Cubs after signing Ben Zobrist, could then be turned into a bullpen piece who could actually start if needed, and a utility infielder. Both teams dealt from strength and it honestly looks like a good trade for both sides.
On a somewhat lesser note, the Yankees dealt away their backup catcher, John Ryan Murphy, to the Minnesota Twins for Aaron Hicks. Hicks is an excellent, low-risk addition to help soften the blow of losing Chris Young to free agency. I never thought I'd write that.
The Yankees also traded away bullpen piece Justin Wilson for Chad Green and Luis Cessa. Green is a 24-year old starting pitcher in Double-A while Cessa is a 23-year old starting pitcher who showed some promise at Triple-A last season.
Reasons to worry
Other than all the moves of the Yankees offseason being in the shadow of one domestic violence incident -- and rightfully so -- the team looks fairly well constructed.
Heading into the season, the Yankees only seem to have one major injury and that's to Greg Bird. Despite being one of the most promising young bats in all of baseball, he would have had to fight for playing time anyways. On the plus side, the Yankees had an abundance in the first base and designated hitter slots.
It may also feel like the resurrection of CC Sabathia is necessary for the team to contend. However, he's likely the fifth starter at-best anyways. While the odds may seem stacked against the 35-year old left-hander, if the expectations are maintained, there's no reason that Sabathia can't have a nice little season in what will most-assuredly end up being a contract year.
Most importantly though, Jacoby Ellsbury was bad last year. Compounding matters further is the fact that he is still due $112 million over the next six seasons. The only solace is that, before Ellsbury's knee injury, he was well above replacement. Steamer expects a return to form, though still projecting Ellsbury to decline in production as his age progresses. If the 32-year old centerfielder can have a bounce-back year, the Yankees should be able to justify the signing.
It's a pretty arbitrary mark, but my biggest worry is that -- if the Yankees happen to make it to the World Series -- if Chapman registers the final out, I just don't know how we will react. Would we all be collectively okay with this? Because the guy on the mound threw a baseball so fast that the fire graphic came up on our scoreboard?
Reasons for hope
While aging stars appear to monopolize the 'worry' section, the club is getting younger for the first time in what seems like forever. Despite Bird being out for the season, Gary Sanchez and Robert Refsnyder appear ready to contribute at the major league levels. Though both may not start on the big club due to playing time concerns.
Whether we like it or not, the bullpen of Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances is far-and-away the best in all of baseball. With due respect, if the Kansas City Royals set the trend, it appears the Yankees worked hard at perfecting it. And, to Chapman's credit, he has expressed a desire to put this behind him and says he no longer owns any guns.
Furthermore, the rotation seems pretty good too. With Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Luis Severino taking up the top four spots, it seems to be at least competitive in the AL East. Even if you're bearish on Pineda -- which you have some reason to be -- or Eovaldi -- which you have very little reason to be -- that rotation could easily best last year's production which spread 25 starts between Ivan Nova, Chase Whitley, and Chris Capuano.
All-in-all, the Yankees seem poised for a postseason push in 2016 that won't end in a one-game wildcard loss.