NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Finally, it wasn't lip service when a player traded away by a team said he'd love to come back.
On the morning of July 25, the Yankees were in fourth place in the American League East, 7 1/2 games behind the Orioles and six games back of the Red Sox. They were tied for fifth in the AL Wild Card standings, 4 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays for the second spot. Things would have been far more bleak if not for the powerful bullpen that Brian Cashman was about to unplug.
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But in flipping Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller in separate deals to the Cubs and Indians, Cashman snagged shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Clint Frazier (among others), who are now their top two prospects. And on Wednesday night, he brought back Chapman in arguably the biggest move of the Winter Meetings.
In the process, Cashman reunited Chapman with righty Dellin Betances to restore two-thirds of that vaunted Yankees bullpen.
While the headline is the size of Chapman's contract -- five years, $86 million -- the takeaway is that the Yanks were brilliant in how they played their hand when they became midseason sellers for the first time anyone could remember.
Not only did New York land Torres and three other prospects from Chicago for Chapman, but the club also upgraded its farm system by dealing Miller to Cleveland for Frazier, pitcher Justus Sheffield and two other prospects.
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And now Chapman has proven he wasn't just making nice when he said he loved playing in New York and would welcome a return after helping Theo Epstein end a 108-year championship drought.
If the Red Sox are really turning into the Golden State Warriors, as Cashman said when they acquired Chris Sale on Tuesday, then the Yankees are being run by the Lakers and Celtics in the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird era. They're making smart moves that set themselves up for a very short stay on the outside looking in at postseason play.
It's easy to knock the Chapman contract as too long or too expensive. It blew away the Mark Melancon deal with the Giants (four years, $62 million) as the biggest for a closer -- at least until Kenley Jansen signs with the Marlins, Dodgers or a mystery team, if there is one. But the Yanks have fit Gary Sánchez, Didi Gregorius and so many other inexpensive pieces in their lineup that there was plenty of room for Chapman.
You wouldn't be wrong if you pointed out that the Yankees need starting pitching more than another bullpen piece to slide into the mix alongside right-handers Betances, Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren. But this was a year when Rich Hill was the best starter on the free-agent market, so easing the burden on Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and maybe Chad Green and Bryan Mitchell makes sense.
Torres, who turns 20 next week, tore up two Class A leagues last season, and he was the best player in the Arizona Fall League, which ended last month. He's not going to be on the Opening Day roster in 2017, but he could be like Carlos Correa in 2015, jumping from Double-A to a starring role in the big leagues in the blink of an eye.
Torres was the first big prospect that Epstein traded in his five years in Chicago, and the Cubs knew they were sacrificing a future star. But they knew they needed to upgrade their bullpen for October. And even if the Rajai Davis home run in Game 7 is the lasting memory, they wouldn't have won the World Series without Chapman, who was 2-0 with four saves in seven chances and 13 postseason appearances. He was scored on four times, but that spoke as much to the increasingly difficult situations that Joe Maddon put him in as it did to his performance.
The Chapman-Torres trade worked as well as it could have for the Cubs and figures to pay long-term dividends for the Yanks, especially now that Chapman is back to lock down the ninth in the Bronx.