How Much Is Too Much Money for a Closer?
I want to start off by saying this: At some point, we're going to have a very frank discussion about Domestic Violence in Major League Baseball. Today isn't that day, but it's going to play a part. We'll tread on it lightly because I think we need to have a full blown piece about everything without stats or contract getting in the way. In regards to the mentions of Aroldis Chapman, we're going to focus mainly on his stats. Don't take that as me pushing the bigger issue to he side, I'm not. I just think it deserves to have it's own spotlight. For a viewpoint on those issues, the New York Times wrote an amazing piece on Chapman's time in Chicago. You can find it here.
What I do think is important is that Aroldis Chapman wants $100 million dollars, and how fucking mental that is. Let's say Chapman were to get that kind of money for 5 years, which he is also reportedly looking for, that equates to $20 million a year. This is very diffucult math, I know. $20 million dollars a year would also get you Barry Bonds from '02-'06, Derek Jeter in his prime, Adrian Beltre for the next two years and Buster Posey. All of those guys play 27 outs to Chapman's usual 3. On the mound, $20 million would get you Rick Porcello, who pitched 232 innings and won 22 games. FUN FACT: Rick Porcello pitched 70% of Aroldis Chapman's career innings in 2016.
So is a 5 year, $100 million dollar contract worth it for Aroldis Chapman. No. Oh my god. No. Are you kidding? Never. Jesus. Come on. Never.
Here's the problem, Aroldis Chapman thinks he's worth $100 million dollars. He's not. When April's World Series favorite trade a ton of young and talented prospects for you to get the final piece to their 108 year drought puzzle, you gotta feel pretty good about yourself. Let's not forget that Chapman had four blown leads/saves in the postseason, when he only had 3 all regular season long.
Postseason pitching is all about rising to the occasion, meeting the challenge head on and succeeding. No one has ever thought "Rich Hill had a very adequate 4 inning outing in Game 4." NO. It's all "Julio Urias is essentially a middle schooler and he single handedly held the Dodgers in Game 5 until Kenley Jensen pitched more innings than he ever has in his career, only to be followed by CLAYTON KERSHAW FOR THE GODDDAMN SAVE. WHAT EVEN WAS THAT?
Anyway, Chapman's postseason work is not nearly as strong as his regular season work. In his 18 postseason appearance through 20.1 innings of work, Chapman has a 3.10 ERA. Now compared to his 28 appearances for Chicago in 2016 and his 1.01 ERA, 3.10 looks like a lot...because it is. Zach Britton, the insanely talented shut down closer for Baltimore has a 0.54 ERA. THAT'S A DOMINANT, LOCK DOWN, SHUT YOUR MOUTH, GOODNIGHT Closer.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Chapman is bad at his job. He's not. He's easily one of the best closers in the game, but asking top dollar for services that can be provided by other guys for less money isn't a smart business plan. Those other guys I'm referring to are Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.
Kenley Jansen appeared in 71 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, saving a career high 47 games in 53 save opportunities. Kenley also held down 1.84 ERA in 2016, putting him in the top 5 closers with Chapman, Fernando Rodney, Seung Hwan Oh, and Mark Melancon. I know a lot of people view ERA as a relatively arbitrary stat, but for a closer, it's a mark as to how well you do your job. Come in, get 4 outs or 3 outs, go back to the locker room. Letting up runs is not a part of the program. A Good closer leaves no doubt.
Another Closer option on the market is Mark Melancon. I mentioned Melancon WAY BACK in July during the trade deadline, so I'm gonna copy and paste what I wrote then, because it still holds true 5 months later. "Did you know that Mark Melancon has better numbers than Aroldis Chapman and the Nationals got him for a fraction of the price? NOW YOU DO! This is a massive pick up by Washington. Sure up the bullpen and finally take the game out of Jonathan Papelbon's hands. It's smart. Melancon is GOOD." Melancon is Chapman without the blazing speed. He's a shutdown guy, who can suffocate a late inning surge. Melancon came into 75 games this season and finished 67 of them. When Mark Melancon comes into a game, there's a 90% chance you're not gonna see anyone else. Melancon is the last face you see before you die.
So where does that leave Chapman, Jansen and Melancon on the Free Agency Market? Chapman has made a big splash with his big talk of big money, I would wait that out. Melancon and Jansen are very viable options that you could easily get for $10 - $13 Million dollars a year. The ceiling for a closer is going to $15 million a year, that's the Mariano Line. Spending any more than that would be a little irresponsible. Let's say Chapman got $15 million last year, that equates to $254,000 an appearance. Even that's a crazy number especially considering Chapman's limited ability outside of the ninth.
If I'm Jansen and Melancon, I'm feeling pretty good about my future. Chapman was thought to be the pitching jewel of the offseason, but now that a lot more teams are reportedly ready to trade pitchers, his stock has dropped a bit. All Jansen and Melancon have to do is come in under Chapman's number and it's contract signing time. All they have to do is beat Chapman to an offer. Chpaman's got baggage and rocket for a left arm, but he's got a big mouth. Stepping out and say he wants a big deal for big money wasn't smart, and may keep more teams away. We saw the same thing with Cespedes last year. Ces wanted big money and everyone went elsewhere to find the bat they needed and Yo was left with the Mets or Nats. Chapman might be waiting a lot longer than he anticipated.
I think LA keeps Jansen. He's earned it. As much as I would like to think that the Nationals would keep Mark Melancon, I don't think they are in the mood to throw money around, especially since they owe Jonathan Papelbon $3 million next year for nothing. Melancon seems like a great fit in San Francisco. They desperately need a closer, and Melancon will give them a great player on the field and off. I love Melancon in the Golden State.
So where does Chapman end up? Honestly, I don't know. My gut feels like he goes back to New York, since they've already reached out, but I don't think he gets more than 3 years out of them. The Yankees also cleaned house and payroll this year and Chapman was a part of that cleaning sweep. A return to pinstripes makes sense, but I don't if the Yankees are going to want to pay more for the same services. ... Did I just say the Yankees wouldn't pay more? ... WHAT IS HAPPENING.
Chapman has a freakish arm. In one game in the World Series, Aroldis Chapman threw 19 pitches over 100MPH, more than the Indians, Twins, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Blue Jays have thrown since 2008 COMBINED. That's nuts. Chapman also has a dark history off the field and signing him to a contract is not as easy as your fan base accepting the fact that this guy was suspended for a Domestic Violence incident. But that is for a longer discussion another time.