The Yankees successfully prevented star closer Aroldis Chapman from becoming the crown jewel of the 2019-20 free agent reliever class late Sunday, agreeing to add another guaranteed year to his contract to prevent him from opting out.
Rather than opt out of the final two years and $34.2 million remaining on his contract, the Yankees guaranteed Chapman a third year at $18 million that will keep him in pinstripes through the 2022 season.
The news was announced first by Chapman himself on Instagram, though it was unclear as to how the team and the pitcher came to an agreement. The news leaked later that the Yankees had decided to give him an extra guaranteed year.
Chapman converted 37 out of 42 save chances in 2019, while allowing just two of 11 inherited runners to score. This year showed yet another drop in his fastball velocity, from 99.1 mph in 2018 to 98.2 mph in 2019. He still topped out at 102.63 mph in August, according to Brooks Baseball.
So, how do the Yankees plan to handle the continuing attrition on the 31-year-old’s arm? It starts with spin rate. Chapman still has 93rd percentile spin on his four-seam fastball, which allows him to use the late life on the pitch to make up for the slight loss in velocity.
The other thing is the meteoric rise in Chapman’s slider usage. The lefty became a true two-pitch pitcher in 2019, using his slider a career-high 31% of the time. The pitch generated a swing & miss 43.2% of the time.
Check out this interesting chart from FanGraphs, which shows how Chapman’s slider usage has increased in harmony with the decrease of his fastball velocity. Note: Chapman’s Yankee career is the first-half of 2016 and beyond.
It’s really no surprise that Chapman backed down from his initial demand for two extra guaranteed years at the deadline when he would have to opt out, given his repeated expression of desires to remain in New York. On the business side of things, there are a few cautionary trends in his peripherals that might tank his free-agent stock, especially with the qualifying offer hanging over his head. Not saying it would be Craig Kimbrel‘s free agency all over again, but that had to have been in his mind.
The return of Chapman means stability for the 2020 Yankees bullpen. The big names like Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green will all see themselves return to their familiar roles in the late innings. The Yanks have a solid supporting crew of peripheral relievers that will no doubt cycle through the lower leverage roles, including Luis Cessa, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Jonathan Loáisiga and Stephen Tarpley (to name a few).