Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Wednesday morning that Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman will become one of the most notable names on the free-agent market in the offseason. Chapman still has two years and $30MM left on the five-year, $86MM contract he signed entering 2016, but a source told Rosenthal the left-hander is “one million percent” likely to exercise his opt-out clause and revisit the open market in a few months. Chapman subsequently denied the report, but the still-great fireballer does seem like a realistic candidate to outdo the remainder of his current contract in free agency. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes expects Chapman to opt out, having ranked the Cuban flamethrower sixth in his most recent list of potential free agents.
There may be an argument for Chapman to stay put, though, if you consider the less-than-ideal trip to free agency fellow longtime standout closer Craig Kimbrel took this past season. Kimbrel, thanks in part to a qualifying offer, went until early June without a contract before finally signing with the Cubs. But Kimbrel showed real signs of decline in 2018, and despite that, the 31-year-old still signed a three-year, $43MM contract worth a substantial amount more than what’s left on Chapman’s pact.
Chapman, who will turn 32 next February, remains a game-ending force. The former Red and Cub has lost a bit of velocity this season, but he’s still throwing near 100 mph. He’s also the owner of a 2.45 ERA/2.09 FIP with 13.01 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, a 45.8 percent groundball rate and 25 saves in 29 chances across 36 2/3 innings this year. Neither lefties nor righties have done much to solve Chapman, who has yielded a .257 weighted on-base average/.263 expected wOBA in 2019.
Not only has Chapman thrived again this year, but no other reliever would offer a better track record than him in free agency. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen could opt out of the two years and $38MM left on his contract, but he has been more vulnerable than usual this season. Giants closer and impending free agent Will Smith has been tremendous this year, though he can’t match Chapman’s long-term excellence. Meanwhile, Chapman’s teammate Dellin Betances has enjoyed a phenomenal career as a setup man, yet multiple injuries have prevented him from pitching at all this season. The rest of the impending free-agent class doesn’t approach Chapman.
If there’s one factor that could significantly tamp down Chapman’s earning power, it’s a qualifying offer. Teams didn’t want to cough up a massive amount of money and surrender a draft pick for Kimbrel or starter Dallas Keuchel, two stars who sat without a job until last month. Chapman would also have a QO and draft compensation hanging over his head, as there’s no chance the Yankees would allow him to leave without getting something in return. But it’s improbable that would be enough to stop Chapman from giving free agency another whirl during the upcoming winter. What do you expect him to do?
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