As a contending team, the Yankees’ No. 1 priority should be securing the signature of star outfielder Aaron Judge on a long-term contract. Everything else is secondary – albeit still important – because having the reigning AL MVP will almost guarantee that the Bombers are a playoff-caliber team. Subtract him, and it’s not so obvious anymore.
The fact the Yankees need Judge doesn’t mean they don’t have other needs, though. After losing Chad Green, Zack Britton, Miguel Castro, Aroldis Chapman, and Stephen Ridings to free agency or waivers, the bullpen could really use another arm.
The Yankees shouldn’t pursue just another arm, though. If they are to invest in a reliever or two, they need to make sure to bring the right people: players who can make a difference and don’t command a terribly long commitment.
Enter Andrew Chafin.
Chafin is not particularly young at 32, but could be had for a two-year contract and a club option or something in that neighborhood. He won’t command closer money and he is very, very good.
In 2022, Chafin finished with a 2.83 ERA (3.06 FIP) in 57.1 innings for the hapless Detroit Tigers. He struck out 27.6 percent of the hitters he faced and got 51.3 percent ground balls: he can miss bats and induce ideal contact for a pitcher.
Chafin was also phenomenal in 2021 with the Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics (1.83 ERA, 2.98 FIP in 68.2 frames) and has a career 3.23 ERA and an even better 3.17 FIP. He has pitched for contenders and playoff teams in the past, so at least in theory, he wouldn’t be terribly fazed by playing in the Bronx.
The best thing about Chafin is that he doesn’t really have a platoon split. Some southpaws can have trouble with right-handed hitters, but that’s definitely not the case with him:
Against left-handed hitters in 2022: 3.19 FIP, 3.00 K/BB, 19.0 K-BB%, .233/.320/.344
Against right-handed hitters in 2022: 2.96 FIP, 4.11 K/BB, 20.3 K-BB%, .214/.268/.317
You can say Chafin was good against left-handed hitters and great against right-handers. That would come in handy for the Yankees, who had their bullpen depth derailed by injuries and underperforming stars in the second half.
Chafin doesn’t have overpowering velocity: his fastball ranked in the 23rd percentile in velo. However, he was in the 89th percentile in chase rate and in the 87th percentile in whiff percentage, so he can sure fool hitters with his three-pitch mix.
The southpaw throws a sinker almost 40 percent of the time. At almost 32 percent, the slider was Chafin’s second-most used pitch in 2022, and it yielded an amazing .165 xwOBA. He also throws a four-seamer 28.5 percent of the time to round out his solid repertoire.
The slider is a thing of beauty:
Right now, the Yanks’ relief corps in 2023 will be some combination of Jonathan Loáisiga, Lou Trivino, Michael King, Ron Marinaccio, Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, Lucas Luetge, and other potential contributors like Clarke Schmidt, Greg Weissert, Albert Abreu, Matt Krook, and the recently-acquired Junior Fernández. That’s a great foundation, but the Yankees will likely bring in a veteran free agent or two, and Chafin would be a fantastic addition.
Chafin is experienced, reliable, can get both lefties and righties out, and the last time his ERA was higher than 4.00 in a regular 162-game season was in 2016 (long enough ago that acclaimed bullpens were built around Andrew Miller, who is now retired).
The Yankees’ offense seems to be more of a need at this time. The unit couldn’t produce a run to save their life in important games in the second half and the postseason, and they should at least consider upgrading shortstop, third base, and left field. However, there is no harm in inking a reliever like Chafin to start working on the bullpen, too.
Chafin declined a player option to become a free agent, but should be a similar case than that of Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He will likely get a similar salary, but is really looking for that multi-year pact ... and perhaps some distance from those disappointing Tigers.
What New York needs to do, if they are going to negotiate with Chafin’s camp, is avoid a three-year deal. It’s never a good idea to bet on a reliever on the wrong side of 30 for a long time, but two years should be the “sweet spot” for a contract. The Yanks could even throw a club option for a third season, but if he gets a guaranteed three-year offer elsewhere, he should take it.
In the right situation, Chafin is a pitcher worth pursuing. He can bring some needed stability to the Yanks’ relief corps.