By Lenn Robbins
This admittedly might come across as a classic knee-jerk reaction, something Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner said on Thursday he will not do.
Trade Aroldis Chapman.
The Yankees are five and one-half games out of the Wildcard spot after the most soul-crushing, regular-season loss in the Hal Steinbrenner era. They are not making the playoffs. They are an above .500 team – barely.
And now there is too much noise around the men in pinstripes that this season can’t keep going forward without a serious reckoning.
It’s as if construction crews have started work on every corner around Yankee Stadium, the jackhammers staccato messaging, “Fire Cashman! Fire Boone! Fire Cashman! Fire Boone!” Rat-tat-tat.
Chapman gave up a game-tying grand slam, completely erasing what was once a 7-2 lead, and the Yankees lost for the 39th time, 11-8 to the Angels. Steinbrenner, had this to say on a Zoom call Thursday afternoon.
“I am aggravated, frustrated, angry. But that will not push me to a knee-jerk reaction.”
That’s about as transparent, understandable and reasonable response as one could want. Certainly, it is not his late father’s response, which often included the use of a flamethrower.
“He certainly did that a lot,’ said Steinbrenner. “I think what people forget is that often times it didn’t help, it didn’t work. And often times, quite frankly, he was criticized for it, right? So I’m just a believer in seeing an entire body of work from an employee, irregardless of what department they’re in. And we do that year to year to year and every year.”
Chapman has flamed out. He threw a hissy fit in his last appearance after Boone had him walk slugger Carlos Santana to load the bases and pitch to rookie Sebastian Rivero. Chapman walked in the tying run and then allowed an infield hit for the go-ahead run. He threw his glove in the Yankees dugout and screamed, presumably at himself, after allowing his third blown save of the season.
Wednesday night was not a save situation. It turned into an S.O.S moment for the 41-39 Yankees and Chapman.
“The big problem is the control of my fastball,” said Chapman, who was pitching for the first time since blowing a save against the Royals a week ago. “[I] got to find myself again with that pitch and come back and return to be Chapman that started the season.”
Let Chapman find himself somewhere else. He is still considered a top closer, one who could bring back valuable assets, even if his numbers are heading South faster than a snowbird in December. He’s under contract for another season, although not many clubs have $18 million to spend on a no-longer lights-out closer.
That’s another franchise’s decision to make. The Yankees need to think about what’s next.
Start with this: Reduce some of the noise.
The Yankees already have weathered the Gary Sanchez drama. Their patience is showing some signs of being rewarded, as Sanchez is on pace to hit 28 home runs (and strike out a career-high 126 times).
They’re dealing with a battered starting rotation and an injury problem that seems to have possessed the team for several seasons now.
The “Fire Everyone!” frenzy is in full chorus.
There’s no need to put up with a hissy-fit closer who, instead of making short work of the rookie he was assigned to neutralize a week ago, was so discombobulated by his manager’s decision (the correct one in our opinion) that the next four pitches were off the grid.
Fast forward to Wednesday night’s fiasco. A 7-2 lead became an 11-8 loss courtesy of Chapman’s three walks and the first grand slam allowed of his career. An MLB loss might be the easiest of the four major sports to overcome because of the sheer number of games, but this defeat crushed whatever hope was left for this Yankees season.
The Yankees have not attempted to hide from their failings. Boone has held meetings and issued dire statements. Cashman has been front and center several times. Not many principal owners step forward to explain the franchise’s thinking in the middle of the season.
But no matter who speaks, the Yankees to not respond. The fans are not reassured because they know the truth.
“The majority of the responsibility lies with the players,” said Steinbrenner. “They are the ones on the field. The majority of the blame lies with them.”
The blame for the worst regular season loss in the Hal Steinbrenner era lies with Chapman. Moving him now might be seen by the most perpetually optimistic Yankees fan as a waving of the white flag but realism set in the second Jared Walsh’s blast cleared the fence in right-centerfield.
The Yankees need to start thinking about what’s best going forward. That’s not a knee-jerk reaction.