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Lord of the Rings: Return of the Closer

Why it made sense

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, the author wrote about hobbits, orcs, elves, and wizards. This offseason, the Yankees’ Brian Cashman and company are going to need some wizardry to make the Yankees stronger for next season. For it is the Yankees that are the true Lord of the Rings. They made a big first step over the weekend by signing closer Aroldis Chapman to a one-year extension.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the Closer

The last image you might have had of Aroldis Chapman as a Yankee, is him flashing an “I can’t believe it smile” and walking off the mound, head down after surrendering an ALCS walk-off home run to Jose Altuve. Unlike Goliath, Chapman will return to fight another day…and it will be for the Yankees.

The cost isn’t horrible. Chap gets paid $15 million for each of the next two seasons and will get a bump to $18 million for 2022.

The $18 million made sense since this year’s qualifying offer for pending free agents is $17.8 million, which is a drop of $100,000 from last season. The qualifying amount is also more than Chapman is currently earning, so this will balance things out for the closer. Plus, Chapman needs a Yankees’ WS ring to go along with the one he earned on the Cubs.

Great Britton

There were a number of Yankees fans that wanted to see Chapman opt out of his current deal and leave the Yankees, especially after serving up Altuve’s walk-off. The reasoning being that the Yankees could use Zack Britton as closer and the money saved could be used to get starting pitching. But, I beg to differ.

Britton had one of the greatest seasons by a closer when he was the Sherriff for the 2016 Baltimore Orioles. Britton was nearly unhittable that season, posting a 0.54 ERA and a 0.836 WHIP. He averaged 9.9 K/9 IP and owned a 4.11:1 K/BB ratio, and a 4.2 WAR.

But injuries took their toll. After averaging 68 appearances from  2014-2016, Britton appeared in only 39.5 games over the next two seasons. Strikeouts dipped considerably and his walk total took a big jump.

The Yankees signed him to a new three-year, $39 million contract prior to the 2019 season. The team also has a $14 million option for 2022 and Britton can opt out after the 2020 season.

I have concerns about Britton’s durability and sporadic control, which was a major factor in my wanting to retain Chapman. I like Britton as a set-up man and backup closer, but not as the main man.

Chances on Betances

Another factor in the bullpen alignment is the free agency of Dellin Betances and his likely departure. The big right-hander has waited a number of years to finally hit the open market but for him, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

After suffering a right shoulder impingement, Betances didn’t return until September. That return lasted one day – he then partially tore his left Achilles tendon in the only game in which he appeared.

The money that Betances could have earned in a multi-year contract won’t be there this season. Had Betances stayed healthy and pitched as he had in the past, he’d likely be seeking a deal similar to the one Britton received from the Yankees.

Betances is a prime candidate for a one-year deal in order to prove himself for a bigger payday beginning in 2021. But, do the Yankees want to keep Betances on with a $17.8 million qualifying offer? I see that as a big “NO” because Betances would likely accept the huge increase from the $7.125 million he earned this past season.

It would be great if the Yankees could bring him back for less, but that doesn’t seem like a strong possibility. What is a more likely scenario is some random team taking a gamble by offering a multi-year deal to the four-time All-Star.

There’s a long way to go until crunch time, but for now, the Lord of the Rings took a big step towards picking up ring No. 28.