I wasn’t expecting to see this headline for another couple of months, but Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman “one million percent” plans to opt-out of his contract after this season, according to Ken Rosenthal.
The 31-year-old all-star signed a record-setting 5-year contract worth $86 million ahead of the 2017 season. The contract included a full no-trade clause through the end of 2019 and had player options on each year 2019-2021. It also, interestingly, had a partial no-trade clause on the final two years of the deal, stipulating that Chapman cannot be traded to a “west-coast team.” Does that mean teams in the western divisions? Not sure. Doesn’t matter! He’s opting out this winter.
Chapman has been so so good this year, even though he’s catching some heat lately- rather than his usual perspective of dishing it out- since he’s blown two saves in the last few weeks. He’s only blown four this year and the Yankees have only lost one of those games (Monday vs. Tampa). He’s been good for a long time and he’s been a largely comforting presence in the bullpen.
Despite how effective Chapman has been, this is far from bad news from the Yankees perspective. The Yankees will be off the hook for Chapman’s final two years and $30M in his age 32 and 33 seasons. Chapman’s velocity has dipped over the last few years, and the rest of the league has caught up to him a bit, as far as velocity goes. He used to be the only guy throwing 100+ on every pitch, rearing back to get all the way up to 105 mph on some pitches. Now, most back-end relievers can get up there and Chapman is just an above-average velocity guy, regularly hitting 101. Impressive, but not irreplaceable, especially as he enters what we expect to be his decline years.
His slider is already in the debate for the best pitch in his arsenal and his velocity hasn’t even taken a huge dip yet. He’s been healthy this season, but we saw him hit the then-DL last year and he’s always had some issues. He’s been incredibly fortunate to not every experience an arm injury in his MLB career. Cardinals’ flamethrower Jordan Hicks just underwent Tommy John surgery. If the Yanks are going to be off the hook for two expensive (though not as insanely expensive as when the deal was signed) seasons of Chapman’s decline and more injury-prone seasons, then that’s fine.
The Yanks will still have Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, and Tommy Kahnle, among some other depth pieces, under contract for 2020. They very well could be picking up another bullpen piece between now and the deadline that is under contract beyond this season, as well.
With how weird free agency has been in baseball the last few years, I expected Chapman to stay at least one more season, but with his money coming off the books coupled with this season’s unfortunate injury struggles, the pathway to keeping Dellin Betances in pinstripes just became much more clear.
Dellin’s injury troubles this season likely cost him tens of millions of dollars and the Yankees obviously wish he was on the team to help win games right now, but if he had pitched a fully healthy season and Chapman’s contract was going to remain on the books, then it was hard to imagine that the Yankees were going to be able to pay Betances something close to the top bid in this era of Yankees austerity. The one good thing from the fan perspective about these two situations is that Dellin’s asking price went down a lot and the Yanks likely just got about $15M more to play with than they originally thought they had.