Why Aroldis Chapman would opt out after this season

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With 2.5 months left in the season, Aroldis Chapman has put himself in position to opt out of his contract after the season.

The Yankees’ closer is faced with a dilemma; After this season, he’ll have to choose between opting into the two years and $30 million remaining on his contract, or the open market, where even great players have struggled to find deals in the offseason.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that it may not be such a dilemma at all as Chapman is likely to opt out after the season, citing a source who put it at “one million percent.” Chapman, for what it’s worth, denied the report’s validity.

Chapman will be 32 years old on Opening Day 2020 and has over 500 innings on his register through 10 Major League seasons. He’s yet to have a serious, long-term injury and still averages 98 mph on his fastball, regularly touching triple digits. His 2.30 postseason ERA nearly matches his 2.25 regular-season mark. He does have a domestic violence suspension in his recent past, though that did not seem to affect his previous free agency.

Contrary to expectations, Chapman’s performance has improved every season since signing a five-year contract with the Yankees during the 2016-17 offseason. While his strikeout rate peaked in New York last year, so did his walk rate, which he’s nearly halved in 2019. The flamethrowing reliever has a 2.45 ERA (and 2.09 FIP) through 36.2 innings this season while leading the American League with 25 saves.

Saves and proven closers seem a thing of the past, yet the southpaw has saved at least 20 games for the last eight years and isn’t intimidated by big moments. That carries some weight on the open market.

When Chapman signed his five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees, it was easy to expect a less-than-graceful decline within the contract, making opting in attractive. He has lost more than two mph on his fastball since 2016, and his repertoire going into the contract was a steady diet of fastballs with an occasional slider.

However, he’s adjusted by throwing his fastball less and his slider more. The mid-80s offering began to bloom into a more efficacious offering in 2017 and has become a consistent part of his attack plan.

In 2016, Chapman threw his slider just 15.7 percent of the time despite getting a 50.5 percent whiff rate on the pitch. Why? Well, his fastball got a 40 percent whiff rate and was averaging 100 miles per hour.

Now? He throws it a third of the time as his fastball has fallen in effectiveness. While it has gotten less positive results as he’s thrown it more often, it’s still an effective pitch, 21st-best slider among relievers after ranking 11th a year ago.

Pitch %Avg. AgainstxWOBAExit VelocityWhiff %
201615.7.212.17587.1 mph53.5
201719.7.216.17685.5 mph45.9
201825.4.109.11686.4 mph62.4
201932.9.189.22987.7 mph39.2

Beyond the numbers, it’s evident that Chapman trusts the pitch more. When he loses control of his fastball early in an outing, he begins to go heavy on the slider to get back into counts and find the zone. It’s turned into his safety valve.

Still, even with a real secondary pitch, Chapman’s opt out isn’t risk free. He’ll be 32 years old on Opening Day 2020. The Yankees will be able to slap a qualifying offer on him, which was the death knell last offseason that forced Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel to wait until this June for deals.

Chapman looks like he’ll have a better walk year than Kimbrel, who showed signs of decline and had a rough postseason despite not blowing a save (and winning a World Series). Still, he’ll be a year older than Kimbrel was on the market. The bearded right-hander is similarly based on his fastball, though he more regularly used his slider before recent seasons.

Kimbrel ultimately received three years and $43 million after the stress of seven months as a free agent. Chapman should be able to hit around those numbers with the qualifying offer attached.

And that’s why Chapman might simply be able to do what CC Sabathia did in 2011 and leverage the opt-out into adding years and money to his current deal. Maybe turn his two-year, $30 million deal into three-year, $50/51 around what Wade Davis received in the 2017-18 offseason?

The Yankees would be pressed to either keep Chapman or add to their bullpen, so they’d be incentivized to negotiate. Dellin Betances will also be a free agent and the team has found a sweet spot with a four-man back-end to carry the load. Losing the ninth-inning of Chapman without bringing back a healthy Betances or another top reliever would be a risk to their 2020 success.

Therefore, Chapman, despite his age and declining velocity, has the leverage and talent to make more than his current deal and thus opt-out after the season. I’d expect him back in pinstripes anyway, albeit on a different deal.

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8 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    When the deal was signed, I actually felt Chapman would age well to the point where it wouldn’t be an issue if he didn’t opt out. A lefty reliever who was very successful, throws 100+ and has a decent slider and no history of arm problems is about as good a bet as you’ll find for longevity. I suspect Chapman will still be pitching in MLB in his late-30s, although he may eventually go the Gossage route and move from closer to set-up man. Heck, if he wants to stick around as a LOOGY, he might follow the Jesse Orosco path and pitch until he’s 100!

    That all said, now that we’re arriving at his opt-out, I wouldn’t be upset if he left. He’s been good, but his velocity has dipped a littler quicker than I figured, and he seems to be more prone to minor injuries. This likely will only get worse. If the Yankees let Chapman, Didi and Gardner leave, they’d have almost $40M per year to invest elsewhere, and they should be able to replace those three. Gleyber can step right in at SS, with DJ taking over at 2B. Andujar returns, with Gio sticking around as the 26th man when rosters expand. I love Gardner, but Judge, Hicks, Stanton, Frazier and Tauchman will have the Yankees covered. Spend the money on a stud starter. Gerrit Cole.

    • Hal was likely totally on board with your plan until you got to the “spend the money” part.

      If Corbin got $140, have to figure Cole gets significantly more. He needs to finish strong and healthy, but I don’t think that’s unlikely.

      Yanks will trade for Stroman by eom. They’ll invite Cole to see his pic on the Jumbotron and let someone else sign him.

      It’s the new paradigm.

  2. Chapman has been great and he’s also pitches/pitches hurt and doesn’t ever use that as an excuse.

    For me, it’s probably a bit of selective memory, but my one nit to pick is Chapman usually makes you sweat watching him. Guys get on, deep counts and it always seems his laboring.

    A lot of that may be selective memory of watching the greatest closer in history making it seem effortless most of the time.

    I would like to point out, Mo had 13 seasons with an era+ over 200. 6 of those seasons were over 250, 2 over 300.

    Chapman’s 170+ as a Yank is great, he just pales in my memory of all those 1,2,3, 14 pitch saves Mariano seemed to throw for the Yanks.

    Since Hal watches every dollar, I wouldn’t be upset if the let Chapman walk. Considering they gave Britton 3,39 – Chapman is certainly within his rights if he thinks he can get more than his 2/30 remaining.

  3. Jimmy

    Lindsey Adler complimenting this story well on the athletic this morning – didn’t realize that if Chap opts-in he won’t have a full no trade anymore. Can definitely see him him using the leverage to get that back in the contract. Agree – he should just leverage into an additional year(s)

    If I was a betting man I would say his contract will be 3/45 guaranteed with a vesting option for year 4 based on appearances. Year’s 3 and 4 a base of around 11M with incentives for appearances and games finished (idk if games finished is an allowable incentive though – might be performance related?). Incentives could bring total AAV to 16.5M a year.

    I say all this forgetting the lux tax implications of incentive laden contracts so what do I know, I’m just a fool with a keyboard.

    • Your a Looser Trader FotD

      I agree overall, especially the part wherein the AAV of the new 3 (or 4) year deal is at least slightly lower than the current AAV.

  4. Tyler

    Love the analysis! One point though- I don’t think Chapman leads baseball with 25 saves…doesn’t Yates have 31?

    • Steven Tydings

      Yeah, I meant American League and wrote baseball for some reason. Thanks for the edit!!!

  5. CountryClub

    When they signed him to this deal, my hope was that he would opt out after three years and my opinion hasn’t changed. He’s been good for the Yanks. But, I’d prefer they not resign or extend him. Let another team pay for the decline.

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