When the Yankees brought back Aroldis Chapman in the 2016 offseason on a five-year, $86 million free agent deal, they took a risk that the closer would continue to anchor the bullpen. That gamble ultimately worked out, but it started with a great deal of uncertainty when Chapman struggled in 2017.
Chapman started the year off well, but an IL-stint and a series of implosions in August brought a serious discussion about whether Chapman would hold up for the duration of his contract. The flame-throwing southpaw rebounded in September, however, and he seemingly found his footing since.
The Yankees saw enough in the first three years of that deal to be comfortable extending Chapman when the option in his contract came up. Chapman’s new deal—a three-year pact totaling $48 million—is nearly a mirror image of what he’s earned in his second stint with the club so far, and will keep him in pinstripes until his age-35 season. Few relievers have been able to be as effective as Chapman has been over his career and continue to perform later in their careers, but all indications show that he isn’t done dominating yet.
Steamer projects Chapman to pitch to a 3.01 ERA in 65 innings of work, earning 34 saves and striking out 94. The save numbers are arbitrary to project simply due to how they’re earned, but Chapman is locked in as the closer and will likely collect plenty of them as long as he stays healthy. The strikeout numbers are the significant detail, however. Chapman has started to adjust his repertoire, getting slightly less heat on his fastball while incorporating his slider more, and the projections still expect a strong capability to make batters miss.
Keep in mind that these are the median numbers for Chapman as well. As a baseline, 94 strikes would already be higher than his total from any of the past four seasons, and there’s a decent chance that he surpasses that. Assuming that Chapman plays to his expectations this year, and stays on course to deliver at least one more strong year, the Yankees would get more than enough value out of the extension.
That’s not to say that Chapman staying on top is a given. Steamer does have some concerns, most notably his propensity to give up the long ball. If there’s any category for Chapman to get dinged on, this is the most likely, with a declining fastball velocity and the uncertainty of the juiced ball. Injuries will also have their say in things, as it’s likely unavoidable that Chapman maintains perfect health throughout the remainder of his deal. The Yankees’ new hires in strength and conditioning coaches figure to factor into that equation, but ultimately some downtime should be expected.
Chapman’s resurgence to the top of the relief market was beneficial to his earnings, but it has also been beneficial to the Yankees plans for the bullpen. Having a significant arm locked down and expected to lead the way amidst a sea of potential changes in the near future is a luxury that Brian Cashman will be thankful for. It hasn’t been as improbable to blow a save as Yankees fans have been used to, but Chapman has been a solid constant for the Yankees. He should be for a while longer, too.