This year’s NLCS between the Cubs and Dodgers is underway, and electrifying closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen figure to be among the series’ most important players. That was already the case for the two teams in the NLDS, when Chapman saved all three of the Cubs’ wins over the Giants – including two one-run affairs – and blew a save in Chicago’s only loss. Jansen had an ugly Game 2 showing against the Nationals, but he was otherwise tremendous, racking up saves in a pair of one-run contests before his all-important hold in a memorable Game 5. Jansen entered in the seventh inning Thursday and tossed 2 1/3 frames of 51-pitch, one-hit ball to preserve a 4-3 lead, which ace Clayton Kershaw closed out by retiring back-to-back hitters in the ninth.
One of Chapman or Jansen could very well secure the final out of this year’s World Series, after which the late-game aces are scheduled to become free agents. Given both their dominance and the ever-increasing importance of bullpens, Chapman and Jansen are in line to score the most valuable contracts ever awarded to relievers. The four-year, $50MM contract Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies in 2011 is the record, but that deal’s days at the top are numbered. Now it’s a matter of figuring out whether Chapman or Jansen will land the richer pact.
The two will play their age-29 seasons in 2017, and their results have been similarly excellent since they debuted in 2011. In 377 combined innings with the Reds, Yankees and Cubs, Chapman has a 2.08 ERA, 15.18 K/9, 4.13 BB/9, 42.3 percent ground-ball rate, 12.8 infield pop-up percentage and 17.7 percent swinging strike mark. Across 408 2/3 frames with the Dodgers, Jansen has posted a 2.20 ERA, 13.92 K/9 and 2.62 BB/9 with a worse ground-ball and swinging strike percentages than Chapman (33.4 and 15.7), though he does have the superior infield fly rate (13.8). In terms of their ability to finish games, Chapman has a nearly 90 percent success rate (182 saves in 203 chances), while Jansen has converted more than 88 percent of his save chances (189 of 214).
There aren’t notable differences in their age or career outputs, though Chapman and Jansen do diverge in certain areas. Chapman is a left-hander and Jansen a righty, for starters. With the ability to occasionally hit 105 mph on the radar gun, Chapman is the hardest thrower in baseball, but Jansen can offer a lethal 98 mph cutter. Also of importance, there are no off-the-field red flags with Jansen. That isn’t true in Chapman’s case
Chapman was on track last offseason to join Jansen in the Dodgers’ bullpen, but a trade between them and the Reds fell through amid domestic violence claims. Chapman was alleged to have struck his girlfriend and discharged a firearm while alone in his garage last October. Criminal charges were never filed, so Chapman did not face a trial. Nevertheless, the league did suspend him for the first month of the season, and it’s conceivable that such a serious incident could damage Chapman’s earning power as a free agent. On the other hand, contenders lined up to acquire Chapman from the Yankees at this year’s trade deadline, and the Cubs eventually surrendered one of baseball’s top prospects – shortstop Gleyber Torres – in a package for him.
The fact that Chapman switched teams during the season means he’ll be ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, which will only boost his stock. The Dodgers will surely tender a QO to Jansen, meaning another club that signs him would have to give up a first-round pick in addition to the enormous contract it awards him. With other high-payroll teams like the Yankees, Giants and Nationals perhaps set to accompany the big-spending Cubs and Dodgers in the sweepstakes for Chapman and Jansen, they’re clearly going to earn sizable raises during the offseason. But which one will fare better on the open market?
(Poll link for Trade Rumors app users)