Wendell Cruz | USA TODAY Sports

The most important Yankee in 2022? It’s not Gerrit Cole or Aaron Judge, according to former Mets manager Bobby Valentine.

No, it’s Aroldis Chapman.

“The couple decades of Yankees dynasties revolved around the bullpen,” Valentine said during his first weekly audience on Mike Francesa’s new BetRivers podcast. “I think that if it’s going to be above [a 91.5-win over/under] for the Yankees, it rests on the shoulders of Chapman.

“Last year he kind of skated in that his reliability was not what was needed for that Yankee team. And yet it wasn’t put on his shoulders. You can bet it’s going to be put on his shoulders this year.”

Chapman was a big reason why the Yankees underachieved last season. He had one of the worst seasons of his career, briefly losing the closer job amid a parade of late-inning meltdowns despite becoming an All-Star for the seventh time. Chapman’s WHIP was a career-high 1.314 and he had the second-highest home run rate of his career. But Yankees manager Aaron Boone has opted to accentuate the positives (a solid finish to the season).

There have been no questions about Chapman’s role this season, although Boone has said he may work more non-save situations here and there to avoid long layoffs. But it’s fair to wonder how long Chapman can hold onto the job if he struggles again.

This is the final year of Chapman’s deal; most figure he will move on in 2023. The Yankees already have potential heir apparent Jonathan Loaisiga in the building. They could also look elsewhere for a closer. But until then, he may be the man who makes or breaks this team.

“If he’s going to be something other than the world-class, dominant left-handed super-human that they signed him to be, I think the Yankees are going to struggle,” Valentine said. “Or Boonie is going to have to remake the strategy of a Yankee bullpen.”


James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.