By Ronald Blum
AP Baseball Writer
OXON HILL, Md. — Boston’s Dave Dombrowski walked up to Brian Cashman outside the room where the winter meeting draft was about to start Thursday and gave the Yankees general manager a slap on the back.
“You’re so kind to stop by and say hello to us little guys,” the New York general manager teased.
Boston made the splashiest moves at the winter meetings, acquiring ace Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox and setup man Tyler Thornburg from Milwaukee while reaching an agreement with free-agent first baseman Mitch Moreland.
Cashman kept positioning the Yankees for a time where New York once again will chase the biggest stars. He got back Aroldis Chapman by agreeing to an $86 million, five-year contract that gives New York two hard-throwing, late-inning relievers to close out games and also added Matt Holliday with a $13 million, one-year agreement while not forfeiting New York’s top draft pick next June, No. 16 overall.
“We’re still securing talent in the present and making sure we have what we want for the future,” Cashman said, “as we straddle that line of trying to be as good as we can be in ‘17 and hopefully even better than that in ‘18 going forward.”
While the AL East champion Red Sox think they are primed to capture titles now with young stars Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. backing a pitching staff that includes Sale and Cy Young Award winners Rick Porcello and David Price, New York hasn’t won a postseason game since the night Derek Jeter broke an ankle in the 2012 AL Championship Series and has missed the playoffs in three of the last four years.
Sending a rebuild was needed, Cashman traded Chapman to the Cubs last July for shortstop Gleyber Torres, right-hander Adam Warren and two other prospects. Torres, just 19, became the youngest MVP in Arizona Fall League history.
Now Cashman has the haul for the trade along with Chapman, whose deal is subject to a successful physical.
“I wish that somebody else would have made him a better offer so he would have gone somewhere else,” Dombrowski said.
New York had a starry bullpen triad last summer of Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, who was dealt to Cleveland for four prospects, including touted outfielder Clint Frazier.
Following the trades, a young core is forming that includes 24-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez, who hit 20 home runs in the final two months of last season; first baseman Greg Bird, who hit 11 homers in late 2015 but missed 2016 following shoulder surgery; hard-hitting (but strikeout prone) right fielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Tyler Austin.
“Their projections lead to an exciting possibility, but this game’s difficult. There’s no guarantees,” Cashman said. “That’s why you collect as much as you can collect, and then the game itself will separate the men from the boys and the best teams from the worst. We feel we’re on a trajectory to be joining some of the best teams in the game and we’re taking the necessary steps to get there, and hopefully the payoff is going to come on the back end.”
For now, Chapman is among the more marketable Yankees. He threw 48 of the fastest 49 pitches in the major leagues this year, according to MLB’s Statcast, including the top 29 ranging to 105.1 mph. His average velocity of 100.9 mph was No. 1.
Chapman, who turns 29 in February, also was pursued by Miami, which offered a back-loaded contract. His deal with New York, the richest for a reliever, calls for an $11 million signing bonus, of which $1 million is payable this year and $5 million in each of the next two years, and annual salaries of $15 million. He has an opt out after 2019, a full no-trade provision for the first three years and then a limited no-trade that says he can’t be dealt to any of the five California teams or Seattle without his consent.
“The price tags are off the chart, both trade acquisition as well as free agency,” Cashman said. “The competition that we’re up with were giving opt outs in year one and two, so at least we were able to put it in year three.”