The New York Yankees have been booted from the playoffs the last two seasons in heartbreaking fashion, and many fans have pointed the finger at Aroldis Chapman, who surrendered home runs to Jose Altuve and Michael Brosseau to seal the team’s fate. He also held the team back during the 2017 ALCS against the Astros.
Though he’s one of the best closers in the league, he’s oddly been unable to shut the door when it’s been needed most.
This acquisition was problematic from the jump. The Yankees traded for Chapman prior to the 2016 season, when he was embroiled in a domestic abuse investigation, which saw him suspended by MLB. For some reason, they went ahead and made the deal and got him at a discount because of his punishment.
Then, after they traded him to the Chicago Cubs that same year in the Gleyber Torres deal, general manager Brian Cashman re-signed the left-hander to a five-year, $86 million contract — the largest ever for a closer — after he nearly blew Game 7 of the World Series. Nobody complained, though, he was still atop his game, for the most part.
The issue many have now is the fact that the Yankees decided to extend the left-hander after the 2019 season instead of letting him hit free agency. And that was a huge mistake.
Chapman was expected to opt out of his deal that offseason and test the open market, but the Yankees offered him another year and a chunk of cash, bringing the remaining contract up to three years and $48 million. There was no way he was turning that down heading into his age-31 season. But what was the logic here?
His fastball, which was is sole claim to fame, had gradually decreased in velocity over the years. Per FanGraphs:
- 2016: 100.4 MPH
- 2017: 100.1 MPH
- 2018: 98.9 MPH
- 2019: 98.1 MPH
The evidence was … right there. And the Yankees had Zack Britton to easily transition into the closer’s role. They brought in Adam Ottavino, who had a career year in 2019, the offseason prior. Chad Green was emerging. There were plenty of other cheaper, effective options in free agency. The whole allure surrounding Chapman was his fastball, which no longer stands out. Go to any MLB bullpen now. One or more guys throw 98-100 MPH. It’s simply commonplace at this point.
Now, heading into his age-33 season and making $16 million in each of the next two years, Chapman is being forced to adapt, utilizing his slider more and introducing a split finger. We’ll admit, it’s pretty cool, but this is not what you pay a premium price for. The second-highest paid closer in MLB (from an AAV standpoint) now has to change his game because his bread and butter is no longer as effective. And we have no idea what to expect.
Truth be told, fans would’ve been happy with Britton closing games, with Green, Otto (assuming he bounced back) and somebody else added to the mix. Instead, the Yankees have imposed their own financial restraints this offseason because they put themselves in this mess (among other decisions).
We’re hoping Chapman can piece it together in 2021 and get beyond his playoff wall, but that’ll be an uphill battle without the pitch that earned him over $100 million.