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An early look at the Yankees options for closer in 2020

The Yankees can go a few different directions if Aroldis Chapman does not return to the Bronx.

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Aroldis Chapman was among the best relievers in all of baseball during the 2019 season. The flamethrower recorded 37 saves, which was good for the second-most in the American League. He even struck out 85 batters in 57 innings. However, Chapman does have an opt-out clause in his contract once this season officially ends. If he decides to test free agency, the Yankees may not be able to retain him. So what if he does leave? What will the Yanks do? Let’s start with some in-house options.

Zack Britton

From one 31-year-old to the next, Zack Britton was stellar out of the bullpen in his first full season in New York. He acted as the set-up man for the bulk of the year, but he did get a handful of innings in the ninth inning. His 1.91 ERA was second on the team, only trailing Adam Ottavino. Plus, Britton is no stranger to being his team’s ninth-inning guy. Let’s not forget that he was the closer in Baltimore for four seasons before being dealt to the Yankees in 2018. In fact, his 47 saves in 2016 lead the AL. Circling back to this season, opponents hit a mere .174 off of him when in high-leverage situations. If Chapman walks in free agency, Zack Britton would most likely be the safest choice to replace him.

Adam Ottavino

Coming off his best season in 2018 with the Rockies, he had arguably an even better one with the Yankees in 2019. Don’t let his postseason play distract you from the great year Adam Ottavino had. He pitched to a 1.90 ERA in 66.1 innings and even appeared in the most amount of games out of any Yankees pitcher (73). He too was able to get some innings in the closer role, and recorded two saves. Aaron Boone may want him to be his specialist and insert him into the game whenever he needs, but if they want to, Ottavino would be able to lock games down for them.

I believe Britton and Ottavino are the only two current Yankees who could fill in for Chapman, but there are some more options out there in the market, including a familiar face.

Dellin Betances

Dellin Betances has been with the Yankees for his entire six-year career and has been a staple in the bullpen since 2014. Being that he is coming off an injury-riddled season in which he appeared in just one game, he doesn’t have much leverage entering free agency. Last season, Betances owned the third-best ERA out of the bullpen and also led them in strikeouts. It’s hard to judge how his offseason will play out. He’s definitely a talented arm, but now he has to recover from an Achilles tear having thrown less than an inning in 2019. The Yankees may very well re-sign him, but he most likely won’t slide into the closer role.

Will Smith

The San Francisco Giants lefty reliever wrapped up his 2019 campaign with 34 saves, which was good for third-most in the National League. Will Smith is not a hard-thrower, averaging around 93 mph on his fastball, but like Chapman, he has a nasty slider in his arsenal. He pitched well in high leverage spots as he faced 147 batters, and they slashed just .148/.211/.252 in such situations. He was nominated for NL Reliever of the Year award as well. If the Yankees decided they don’t want any of their in-house options to close, then Smith should be near the top of their list. If you wish to see some of his highlights from this season, click here.

Kenley Jansen

Staying in California, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jensen had an up-and-down 2019. He currently has an opt-out clause, so he may not even enter free agency, but he’s still worth a look. He has recorded 292 saves for LA since 2012 so he knows how to get the job done. He has had success in the postseason, too. In 41 games he owns a 2.01 ERA paired with 70 strikeouts. Jansen would be an interesting option for the Yanks, but probably not something their looking for right now.