2:34pm: Chapman made clear to reporters today that he has yet to make any such decision, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch was among those to report on Twitter. He says he has not even yet discussed the matter and calls it “completely false” to suggest he has decided to opt out.
2:23pm: A confidant of Yankees lefty Aroldis Chapman says that the star reliever is “one million percent” likely to exercise his opt-out clause and return to the open market at the end of the season, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link).
It’s not really surprising to hear such a stance from the 31-year-old fireballer. He is owed another $30MM over two years on the contract he inked to return to New York after the 2017 season. But as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes wrote just yesterday, in ranking Chapman sixth among pending free agents, it seems reasonable to think he could secure a rather significantly larger contract on the open market — even given that he’ll certainly be forced to reject a qualifying offer and carry the burden of draft compensation if he opts out.
True, Chapman is exhibiting a typical velocity reduction at this stage of his career. But in his case that means he’s averaging 98.2 mph with his four-seamer — good for fourth among all qualified relievers in baseball. Chapman is also still sitting in triple-digits (second in baseball) with a two-seam offering that he has gone to more than ever.
It is notable that Chapman carries only a 12.7% swinging-strike rate, lower than any of his single-season marks. But he’s still carrying an excellent 2.45 ERA with 13.0 K/9 and 2.9 K/9. Notably, that walk rate is much better than Chapman’s typical 4+ rate. His first-pitch strike rate sits at 63.2%, a personal high.
Some might point to the Craig Kimbrel contract as reason for Chapman to think twice. But that’s an odd interpretation, particularly considering that the latter has not (to this point, at least) shown the kinds of worrying signs that Kimbrel did in his platform season. Kimbrel also could have landed a larger deal had things shaken out differently in the way his market situation unfolded. Oh, and the contract he did sign? He ultimately took down $43MM over three seasons, the first of which he only played in the second half. That’s clearly a better deal for a relief pitcher of this age than Chapman’s remaining 2/30.
Chapman also won’t face immense competition from the remainder of the free agent market. Kenley Jansen seems less likely to opt out, as he’s not only owed more ($38MM) over the two years of his deal but has shown more worrying declines in velocity and some key peripherals. Otherwise, Will Smith does provide interested teams with another high-end lefty reliever to consider, but he lacks Chapman’s long track record of consistent dominance. And it isn’t as if both can’t find hefty paydays.
For the Yankees, a Chapman opt-out would create some interesting choices. The club would certainly have internal alternatives, even with Dellin Betances (who’s still working towards his season debut) also set to test the open market. Veterans Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino have experience in the ninth, while Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green have the kind of stuff that teams like to see in that spot. It’s possible the Yanks could look into Smith and explore the trade market. And as Dierkes noted in his writeup on the top pending free agents, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the Yanks forestall an opt-out by adding to the existing contract — or simply beat the rest of the market to bring the power southpaw back to the Bronx.