Aroldis Chapman’s Yankees opt-out decision will be complicated
Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen signed the most lucrative relief contracts ever during the 2016-17 offseason — five-year pacts: $86 million for Chapman, $80 million for Jansen.
No closer has neared those totals since, much to Craig Kimbrel’s frustration.
As part of those deals, Chapman and Jansen both have opt outs after this season and Chapman has positioned himself better to capitalize. Jansen is still a top closer, just no longer historically great. He has faced heart issues that have at times raised questions if he could continue playing and his past two seasons have been his worst; his strikeout rates dropping and his susceptibility to homers rising.
The Dodgers, by far the National League’s best team, have one significant worry in trying to return to the World Series for the third straight year and win for the first time since 1988 — Jansen.
Chapman’s fastball might not as consistently crackle triple digits and his strikeouts are down, but he throws hard, whiffs plenty of batters and remains elite. His opt-out leverage will be aided if he finishes strong, notably in the playoffs.
Chapman’s case is not going to be helped by the withering of other top closers, such as Jansen, and the belief among organizations that reliever is the most volatile position and even a great closer can go bad quickly.
Jansen, after 2019, has two years remaining at $38 million. It is almost certain he could not find $19 million a year elsewhere with his current downward trendline. Could he top $38 million in total on a longer deal? Maybe. But Kimbrel had a better walk season last year and ended up holding out half a season before getting three years at $43 million from the Cubs.
And Chapman, Jansen and Kimbrel are clone-like — all coming up to the majors in 2011, all currently in their age-31 season, all with stats in a similar historically dominant range.
Chapman has two years at $30 million left. And while dubious about Jansen, I believe Chapman would top how much remains on his deal. Four years at $60 million feels possible, perhaps more. A club with money to spend and a desire to break from losing shackles such as the White Sox stands out.
But the way Kimbrel was treated in the marketplace has to provide pause for Chapman. And the fall of Wade Davis — the only reliever to make more on average per year than Chapman and Jansen — is going to further unnerve clubs thinking about spending big on even star relievers. Davis, in the second season of a three-year, $52 million pact, has become close to unusable by the Rockies.
Chapman’s arm has proven durable, he actually lobbies to pitch more frequently. But David Robertson’s arm was among the most durable in the sport until he signed a two-year, $23 million deal with the Phillies last offseason, missed most of this season and then needed Tommy John surgery and probably will miss all of next year.
The Yankees will have to weigh all of this if Chapman threatens to opt out or does actually go through with it after the season. They want to keep their bullpen strength intact, but with Zach Britton, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino under control they still have a big three plus Chad Green, plus the option to bring free-agent-to-be Dellin Betances back if he can demonstrate health at some point.
The Yankees also will eye their payroll for luxury tax purposes as they want to avoid especially eclipsing the top threshold in 2020 of $248 million, which becomes problematic if they retain Didi Gregorius and try to add a significant starter such as Gerrit Cole. That is why I could see them, at best, offering to Chapman what they once did with CC Sabathia, another year for similar annual money — so perhaps a rise to three years at $45 million or maybe four years at $60 million — because that would not raise the number for luxury tax purposes.
How much does Chapman enjoy being a Yankee and would he avoid the market to stay, like Sabathia once did in not opting out? How Chapman performs from here will impact his alternatives and value. Here are a few others with opt outs and interesting calls:
J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: He is not as brilliant as 2018, but remains among the majors’ best hitters. He has three years at $62.5 million due after this season. But he turned 32 Wednesday and is viewed as a DH, so 15 NL teams are not going to give him a long-term deal. More and more AL clubs want to use a rotating DH to rest position players, plus Edwin Encarnacion will be on the market for cheaper. The Twins will probably pick up Nelson Cruz’s $12 million option, which will either remove a Martinez landing spot or put Cruz out in the market as an alternative. Like with Chapman, the White Sox stand out as a team that could spend on Martinez to put around their young hitters.
Elvis Andrus, Rangers: He did not opt out after last season and his final chance at early freedom will come with three years at $42 million left. Andrus turns 31 next week and is in the midst of a second straight subpar season. Also, this is a golden age for shortstops, most of the best teams have one they like, plus Gregorius could be available and at some point Francisco Lindor might become too expensive for the Indians.
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: Strasburg (four years at $100 million), the Cubs’ Yu Darvish (four years at $81 million) and the Phillies’ Jake Arrieta (one year, $20 million) are the starters with opts outs. Arrieta was having an underwhelming season, then needed surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. So he probably is going nowhere. Darvish rediscovered the strike zone and in his last 17 starts has a 3.78 ERA and .211 batting average against. But unless he simply wants out of Chicago, his erratic performances and health concerns likely keep him a Cub.
Strasburg’s injury worries are more concerning than Darvish’s. But he is so talented (third in the NL in Wins Above Replacement by FangGraphs) and the need for starting pitching is so great. Could a team convince itself to do a five- or six-year deal for more than Strasburg is due? The Phillies took Bryce Harper away from the Nationals last year, could they or another club take the other one-time Washington building block after this season?
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