Luckily for the Yankees organization, roughly $50 million of revenue is being shed heading into 2017, and that gives the front office a little bit of wiggle room in their quest for acquisitions. Unfortunately, this is a poor free agent class. What there is a nice wealth of, though, is relievers.
The Yankees made it clear they would go after Aroldis Chapman, or Kenley Jansen if Chapman’s price was too high. There’s also Mark Melancon, who was a former Yankees pitcher himself and has boasted a nice career thus far.
If we’re going to choose among those three, clearly Chapman and Jansen are the super options. Melancon pitched to a 66 ERA- in his career over 447 innings, posting an 8.19 K/9 in the process. His velocity has been dipping for the better part of three years now, and he has migrated his repertoire over to his cutter. I’m sure that will keep him effective, but I can’t imagine betting on him for what MLB Trade Rumors predicts to be a four year, $52 million contract. I’m all for finding value in relievers, but that’s a sizable commitment. Pass.
Then it comes down to Chapman and Jansen. Both are likely to get monster deals as far as closers are concerned—MLB Trade Rumors predicts a five year, $90 million contract for Chapman and a five year, $85 million deal for Jansen. That, based on what we know about relievers, is absurd.
It gets to the point where you start to think whether teams are overvaluing relievers, kind of what the establishment thought at the trade deadline, then you realize what these relievers are capable of in the postseason. Andrew Miller pitched the Indians to the World Series, and Chapman, while he’ll be remembered for the Game Seven meltdown, was necessary to a Cubs championship when manager Joe Maddon had little faith in his bullpen. These players matter.
If we have to pick one, and if we’re under the assumption that the Yankees will sign one, then my money would be on Jansen. We as Yankees fans are pretty familiar with Chapman. I think it’s very important to mention the domestic violence suspension, because that matters too. Character matters no matter the signing, but I think it’s worthy to consider whether his makeup makes him a good fit in the clubhouse. Keep in mind—he has still only attended a single counselling meeting since the suspension.
Even with those feelings aside, Jansen is still the better pitcher. Jansen has a 60 ERA- over 408.2 career innings, while Chapman sits at 53. In the past, Chapman has been better—the future is a different story. Chapman has pretty poor command—he has a 4.13 BB/9 in his career—and he has one 80-grade pitch in his fastball.
When that fastball inevitably takes a tumble in velocity, and we know that day will come, what exactly will Chapman succeed with? Maybe he makes the change to a high-velocity cutter or adds another off speed pitch, but we don’t know. All we know is that his one major asset is a diminishing one. If you’re also a team like the Yankees, where contention in 2017 isn’t 100% clear, maybe don’t bank on the performance being completely front-loaded.
Jansen has fantastic command—he has a career 2.62 BB/9—and he also relies on a pitch that is still valuable even when velocity dips, and that’s the cutter. Jansen’s cutter is an incredibly valuable pitch, and there’s reason to believe it has a more favorable aging curve. A pitcher whose strategy focuses on hitting locations and jamming batters (he also strikes out almost 14 batters per nine innings), you can be successful even when your velocity decreases. Jansen hasn’t seen that decline yet—so there is obvious speculation—but it’s a heuristic that the Yankees hopefully consider.
Ideally, this is a silly place to spend payroll. While the Yankees are obviously better with another reliever, it doesn’t make them great. The Yankees had the Big Three last year and they still slogged along at a below-.500 pace before the trade deadline. If your goal is to add talent to the organization for just dollars, then there aren’t many better options. There’s also the cases where relievers turn into pumpkins over night, and that’s not uncommon at all.
But, sluggers are clunky in their own way, they don’t age well, and the Yankees hopefully have young players to fill position player spots. There’s also the possibility the Yankees trade that reliever again when the market demands it, which, as we know, has rewards in that respect. If the Yankees do end up signing a reliever, I’m hoping it’s Jansen. I can respectfully understand wanting Chapman--that fastball is alluring—but the long-term option in my mind is the pitcher with the best cutter since Mariano Rivera.