When Aroldis Chapman signed his five year, 86 million dollar contract prior to the 2017 season, he became the highest paid relief pitcher in the history of baseball. He also was able to secure an opt- out after the 2019 season. Given the free agent market and Chapman’s performance, what would have to happen for him to exercise that opt-out clause next winter?
Chapman was excellent last year. He racked up 32 saves while pitching to a 2.45 ERA, and he struck out a ridiculous 16.3 batters per nine innings. Despite losing some velocity on his fastball, Chapman was able to fine tune his slider, and it resulted in the second best K/9 ratio of his career. Even more impressive, he did it all while pitching through knee tendinitis, showing an incredible pain tolerance for much of the season.
If he chooses to opt out before his age 32 season, Chapman would be leaving $34.4 million over two years on the table. Based on the way the free agent market for relievers has taken shape this year, early indications would point to Chapman opting in.
David Robertson, Andrew Miller and Zach Britton all received around $12-13 million in average annual value, so there doesn’t seem to be much upside in turning down $17.2 million per year for two seasons. Furthermore, the free agent market is becoming less desirable for all players, even star players. Teams are spending less money every year, and even cream of the crop free agents like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are still unsigned as we approach mid-January. Closer Craig Kimbrel is still out there, hoping to get a contract similar to the one Chapman got in 2017. He won’t come close.
Over the past two years, other pitchers with opt-out clauses have taken notice of this weak market and acted accordingly. Masahiro Tanaka and David Price, who at one point were heavily favored to both opt-out of their contracts, decided to opt in with little hesitation, having realized how much the free agency landscape has changed.
Chapman is also heavily reliant on velocity, something teams are definitely aware of, and could use the recent drop in velocity as a precaution against giving him a big contract next year. His velocity certainly isn’t going to increase as he gets older.
Anything is possible: Chapman could come out next season and save 40 games with an ERA under two, win the Mariano Rivera award, and bet on the fact that a team would be willing to offer more than $17.2 million per year. Or perhaps guarantee him 3-4 years at a similar rate instead of the two years he’ll have left.
However, Chapman loves being a Yankee, and he seems very comfortable in pinstripes. “Every player dreams of being a Yankee, and if they don’t it’s because they never got the chance,” he told Marly Rivera of ESPN in late 2016.
The current free agent market, combined with Chapman’s strong salary and love for the Yankees, makes it highly unlikely that he will opt-out next season. Chapman should be locking down the ninth inning for the Yankees for the next three years, and that works perfectly for both sides.