Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is pursuing an extension but otherwise plans to utilize the opt-out clause in his five-year contract, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). A decision on that opt-out provision is due tomorrow, leaving his representatives at Magnus Sports with a small window to work out a new deal. (Although, presumably, the two sides have already been in contact well before today’s report.)
Chapman, 32 in February, has two years and $30MM remaining on the five-year, $86MM pact he inked prior to the 2017 season. In the event that an extension isn’t reached, the Yankees will surely issue him a $17.8MM qualifying offer, which he’ll reject in order to head into free agency. (That much is evident based on logic and common sense; if Chapman is to walk away from $30MM over the next two seasons, he’d certainly decline less than that on a one-year term even if it included a relatively small bump in terms of yearly salary.)
At 32, another five-year deal for Chapman won’t be there in free agency. Realistically, a three-year deal seems like the most plausible outcome whether it manifests with the Yankees tacking an extra year onto his current deal (as they did with CC Sabathia several years ago) or via an open-market agreement. Chapman’s $86MM guarantee is still a record among relief pitchers, but he’d have the opportunity to set another new record on the open market by taking aim at Wade Davis’ precedent-setting annual salary ($17.33MM). Anything north of $52MM over a three-year term — or even something like $36MM over a two-year term — would give Chapman the relief pitcher records in both total guarantee and AAV.
Chapman’s on-field performance in 2019 was arguably the best of any of his three full seasons under his current deal. He tossed 57 innings — his most since signing — and worked to a pristine 2.21 ERA with averages of 13.4 strikeouts, 4.0 walks and just 0.47 home runs allowed per nine innings pitched. That home-run rate is particularly impressive given his hitter-friendly home parks (and several others in the AL East) as well as the league-wide homer spike with this year’s superball. Chapman racked up 37 saves in 2019, marking his seventh 30-save season in the past eight years.
It’s true that Chapman doesn’t throw as hard as he used to. But while he’s no longer averaging 100.4 mph on his heater, this season’s 98.4 mph average still ranked as the sixth-highest among the 458 relievers who tossed at least 10 innings. In all, he’s given the Yankees 158 2/3 innings of 2.61 ERA ball with 91 saves, 14.0 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 over the first three years of the deal (including two All-Star nods). He’s added on another 16 1/3 innings of 1.65 ERA ball with a 29-to-7 K/BB ratio in the postseason, though this year’s final impression — a series-ending, walk-off homer to Jose Altuve — wasn’t a favorable note on which to end that otherwise strong run.
Some may point to Craig Kimbrel as evidence that Chapman should be wary of venturing into free agency as a reliever with a qualifying offer attached to his name, but Kimbrel should rather serve as a lesson in the importance of managing expectations. If Chapman goes to market seeking a record-setting guarantee over five or six years, as Kimbrel apparently did, then he’ll indeed have his share of troubles. If he’s seeking out a more palatable four- or three-year pact, he could have an easier time, as was the case with the aforementioned Davis two winters ago when he signed his own record deal in Colorado. Even Kimbrel himself ultimately landed a strong three-year deal worth a prorated $43MM when he ultimately did put pen to paper.