Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is one of several prominent major leaguers who will have a chance to opt out of his contract after the season. Unlike a lot of his peers, there’s seemingly a realistic shot Chapman will vacate the remainder of his deal.
The Cuban fireballer briefly discussed his future with Ken Davidoff of the New York Post during this week’s All-Star festivities, saying through an interpreter: “Honestly, I haven’t been thinking about that at all because through these years, I’ve dealt with some injuries. So the concentration and the focus was to stay healthy this year and try to have a good season. It hasn’t even crossed my mind.”
Chapman’s in his second go-around with the Yankees, who acquired the superstar left-hander for a fairly underwhelming package of players from the Reds in December 2015 amid troubling domestic violence allegations. The league suspended Chapman for the first 30 games of 2016, but he came back to dominate on the mound with New York that year. The Yankees weren’t surefire contenders when the summer rolled around, though, and Chapman was on the cusp of free agency. Consequently, they traded him to the Cubs in a win-win deal. The Yankees landed middle infielder Gleyber Torres, then an excellent prospect and now a terrific 22-year-old major leaguer. The Cubs, with Chapman’s help, won their first World Series in 108 years.
Fresh off his championship with the Cubs, Chapman rejoined the Yankees heading into 2017 for a five-year, $86MM payday. That’s still the largest guarantee ever awarded to a reliever. Chapman will have another two years and $30MM left on his contract after this season, but considering the way he has pitched, the soon-to-be 32-year-old could try his hand in free agency again.
Now a six-time All-Star, Chapman has avoided injuries in 2019 and recorded a matching 1.82 ERA/1.82 FIP with 12.98 K/9, 3.12 BB/9 (one of the lowest walk rates of his career) and a 45.2 percent groundball rate over 34 2/3 innings. Chapman has racked up 24 saves in 27 tries in the process, giving him 260 on 290 tries in his career. Adding to Chapman’s appeal, Statcast regards him as elite or close to it in strikeout percentage, hard-hit rate, exit velocity against, expected batting average against, expected slugging percentage and expected weighted on-base average.
If you’re looking for negatives, Chapman’s K/9, although hefty, is the second-worst mark of his career. Meanwhile, Chapman’s swinging-strike percentage (12.3) is a personal low, merely above average and far less than his lifetime figure (16.8). A drop in four-seam velocity has possibly contributed to Chapman missing fewer bats, though his 98 mph heat remains plenty imposing, and the 99.9 average on his sinker – a pitch he uses just over 10 percent of the time – is jaw-dropping.
All things considered, Chapman has a legitimate case to head back to the open market, where he’d again be the most proven closer available. Unlike his previous trip to free agency, though, Chapman would surely come with a qualifying offer attached. The Yankees wouldn’t simply let him walk for nothing.