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New York Yankees: Closer options in free agency


November 30, 2016

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With the 2016-17 offseason Winter Meetings set to kick off next week, it would seem like the appropriate time to start speculating on what the New York Yankees will do to set themselves up for success in 2017, and beyond.

When the Yankees rose the white flag last summer, Brian Cashman was given a mandate by Hal Steinbrenner – if you’re going to dismantle the fearsome threesome affectionately nicknamed “No Runs DMC,” replace Chapman and Miller with serviceable pieces. As such, he brought back both Adam Warren, and Tyler Clippard, relegating Dellin Betances to the closer’s role.

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However, in September of 2016, Betances’ era ballooned to nearly 10, a potential concern for the future. And, with the funds freed up from the trade of Brian McCann to the Houston Astros, plus money coming off the books with the retirement of Mark Teixeira, it’s worthwhile for us to consider what other options may be brought in, to push Betances back into a setup role.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the free agent class of closers, and compare them with Betances, the obvious in-house option.

Aroldis Chapman – The first option, it would seem apparent, would be to simply bring back the flamethrower, fresh off a World Series victory with the Cubs. Coming off a season in which Chapman earned over $11M ($11,325,000 to be exact), there’s no doubt he will be looking to cash-in on a successful campaign, during which he posted a 1.55 ERA, 1.42 FIP, nearly 14 Ks/9, along with 36 saves, WHILE missing the month of April due to suspension.

Chapman’s career stats compare with other notable closers – Kenley Jansen (who will be mentioned later), Craig Kimbrel, Mark Melancon (also will be mentioned later), and Greg Holland.

Heading into his age 28 season, look for Chapman to seek a long-term deal, somewhere along the lines of 5 years in length. I could see him getting five years at $65-75M. Depending on what bat(s), if any, the Yankees pursue, this should be well within their budget.

Kenley Jansen – Jansen’s performance during the 2016 postseason, was quite impressive, as he struck out 10 batters in 6 1/3 IP during the NLCS alone. The Dodgers losing out to the Cubs wasn’t at all related to any ineffectiveness by their closer.

In 7 seasons with the Dodgers, Kenley has a 2.20 ERA, and a 1.93 FIP. During 5 of those seven seasons, he has been their closer, throwing up saves totals of 25, 28, 36 and 47, setting a new career high in 2016. For the 2016 season, he averaged 13.6 Ks/9, and set a new career low for FIP, at 1.44.

Heading into his age 29 season, a contract of similar length to Chapman’s potential is in the offing. Like Chapman, Jansen is comparable with virtually the same pitchers, and will likely cash-in close to what Chapman will get. In reality, while Chapman is known more for his dominance than Jansen, the numbers are fairly similar.

Mark Melancon – Once a member of the Yankees (for those of you that remember the last championship season for the Bronx Bombers, Mr. Melancon was actually on that roster, his only season with the team). Mark doesn’t come with the same notoriety that the previous two mentions do, but he can be classified as underrated.

Over an 8 season career, Melancon has sported a 2.60 ERA, 2.79 FIP (suggesting that when he’s in control of the outcomes, he fares better), and has recorded 20 or more saves, five times. He doesn’t blow away opposing batters with NEARLY the efficacy that Chapman and Jansen do, but he still managed 8.2 whiffs/9 this past season.

Melancon will be entering his age 31 season, so he should command a lesser commitment than either Jansen or Chapman, more along the lines of 3 years. After making $9,650,000 in 2016, I would look for him to pursue an AAV of around $11M, thus putting him in the three-year, $33M range.

Dellin Betances – Lastly, we’ll take a look at the in-house option, Dellin Betances. Easily the least experienced of the bunch, he received his first taste of closing in 2016, and other than a late season implosion, he fared well, saving 12 games after the departure of Andrew Miller to Cleveland.

From 2013-15, his K/9 rate has gone up steadily, from 13.5 in 2014 to 14 in 2015, to over 15 in 2016. In 2016, his FIP was SIGNIFICANTLY lower than his ERA (1.78 compared to 3.08), suggesting an ERA correction is likely in 2017. Interestingly, his FIP the prior two seasons, was HIGHER than his ERA.

It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the Yankees to stick with Betances as their closer next year, and it also wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they bring in a Jansen or Chapman, to create depth in the bullpen.

Another interesting potential? Luis Severino. After all, there IS famous precedent in recent Yankees history of a failed starter turning into a Hall of Fame closer – Mariano Rivera.

Let’s compare Mariano’s stats to those of Luis, through similar sample sizes:

Mariano Rivera (1995) – 10 starts, 5.94 ERA, 6.84 Ks/9, 1.9 K:BB ratio.

Luis Severino (2016) – 11 starts, 8.50 ERA, 7.7 Ks/9, 2.7 K:BB ratio.

As you can see, while Severino didn’t fare as well regarding ERA, both his Ks/9 and K: BB ratio, were better.

Am I saying that Luis Severino is the next Mariano Rivera? No. Am I saying that Severino is destined to be a closer? No. I AM saying that the idea of transitioning him to a closer role, is plausible, and could make sense if he can’t figure it out as a starter.

The way I see it, the Yankees have 4 realistic options for a closer next season, because even IF Severino becomes one, it won’t be next year, and the team WILL need a reliable option, if they want to compete for a playoff berth, and ultimately, a championship.

5 years is probably too long of a contract for a closer, as it’s rare for a closer to maintain his dominance and reliability, for much beyond a few years (see Brian Wilson, Eric Gagne), though having 2 free agents of similar age, similar dominance, and a shallow pool, could ensure one of them (Chapman and Jansen), gets it.

Chapman is likely to go first, followed by Jansen, followed by Melancon. While the Yankees are interested in bringing Chapman back, and he likely has an interest in returning, the Ricketts family has plenty of dough to throw at him. I don’t believe this is a slamdunk.

Ultimately, Betances is likely to return as the closer. IF they sign any of the three names I mentioned above, my guess would be Chapman, with Jansen possibly heading to Chicago as his replacement.

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