It’s a well-known fact that MLB relievers are volatile year-to-year. Finding a good one who is consistent year in and year out is one of the most elusive tasks for a general manager in baseball.
The Yankees have one in Aroldis Chapman. There just haven’t been many closers better or more consistent than Chapman over the last six years or so. That continued for the Yankees in 2019 with an All-Star campaign, even though the final pitch he threw ultimately sunk the Yankees’ season. Now facing an uncertain future as a potential free agent, the Yankees will need to pony up to keep Chapman around if they want to maintain the “Super-Bullpen.”
2019 Statistics: 57 IP, 2.21 ERA, 2.28 FIP, 48 ERA-, 13.42 K/9, 3.95 BB/9, 1.11 WHIP
2020 Contract Status: Signed for two more years at $34.4 million, but can opt out this offseason
2019 was a typical Aroldis Chapman season. He hit the ground running, endured one brutal month where he blew three saves, and got it back together for the playoffs. Ending the ALDS sweep of the Minnesota Twins with a strikeout was one of the highlights of Chapman’s season, and when the Yankees got unexpected life in Game Six of the ALCS, there was no one else that Yankees fans would have rather been on the mound than Chapman.
Of course, Chapman blew the game, hanging a slider to Jose Altuve that he blasted out of the ballpark and into a World Series berth. Still, that doesn’t tell the story of Chapman’s year. Even in the age of the juiced ball, Chapman put together a stellar 2019 season. He struck out more than a third of his opponents, cut down his walks from last year, and saved the second-most games of his career. He also made his second straight All-Star team, and was named the American League Reliever of the Year after the season ended.
Although we know that Chapman’s 2019 season was great, that puts him in an interesting spot for 2020 and beyond. He’s signed with the Yankees for two more years at $34.4 million, but he can opt out this winter and become a free agent for the second time in his career entering his age-32 season.
While Chapman has been very consistent as a Yankee, signing a contract extension through his age-35 season could be risky. Still, it’s a risk the Yankees would seem likely to take. The team has long prioritized building the best bullpen in baseball, and if they’re serious about maintaining that particular advantage, they won’t want to let one of the game’s few trustworthy closers leave over a few more bucks.
The best solution for Chapman and the Yankees might be to work on a contract extension, like they did with CC Sabathia back in 2011. Chapman would probably get more than two years and $35 million on the open market, but offering it to him in the form of a three-year, $55 million contract (a one-year extension and a raise) might get the job done.
While the Yankees will never find another Mariano Rivera, Chapman has been the closest possible replacement strictly in terms of production. While his contract status could get tricky, the Yankees shouldn’t hesitate to bring back their All-Star closer for 2020.