Coming off of a dominant season and a World Series win with the Chicago Cubs, free Agent closer Aroldis Chapman is in for a big pay day. If he gets his way, reports say that Chapman will make nine figures.
“Chapman is looking for $100 million, said one plugged-in agent posted up at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa during the general manager meetings,” Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago said. “If Chapman’s camp can draw the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers into a bidding war, then maybe the 100-mph closer gets a five-year deal and doubles the $50 million guaranteed the Philadelphia Phillies would regret giving Jonathan Papelbon after the 2011 season.”
One thing that’s consistent about baseball’s free agency period is that we should never be surprised by money. Teams like the Cubs, Dodgers, and Yankees might as well print money at their respective stadiums. So, if two of those teams (plus a few others) find themselves in a bidding war, $100 million for Chapman is certainly possible.
But while it may be possible, it wouldn’t be a good idea for any team.
First, we have to acknowledge the unquestioned positives that Chapman brings.
There’s no question that Chapman’s a great closer. He’ll be 29 come the 2017 season, so he’ll likely continue to be a great closer for quite some time. His off-field issues with domestic violence are obviously troubling. But any potential discipline (both legal and MLB issued) has already been handed out. So, the only backlash from it would come from the fans.
That’s not irrelevant, but Chapman was a member of the Cincinnati Reds when it happened. Since then, he’s been on two different teams. The Yankees and Cubs found a way to make it work. Other teams can do the same.
We also can’t overestimate the on field value of a good closer. Heck, if the San Francisco Giants had a good won, they probably would have forced a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in the NLCS.
Still, $100 million for a closer?
Chapman — a heavily used closer — has never thrown more than 72.1 innings in a regular season. Yet he’s worth $100 million?
The aforementioned Papelbon example is a brilliant cautionary tale.
The Phillies signed Papelbon following the 2011 season. It seemed to make some sense at the time. Philadelphia had just completed a 102-60 campaign to win its fifth straight division title. Nothing really suggested that the Phils were slowing down. Surely Papelbon would be on the mound, throwing the final pitch of a Philadelphia World Series win, right?
It didn’t work that way.
The Phillies immediately went south. They went 81-81 in 2012, finished well out of the playoff race, and immediately went into a period of rebuilding after. They haven’t cracked the 73 win barrier since. Because they gave Papelbon such a massive contract, Philadelphia had a near impossible time unloading its closer until the Washington Nationals finally took him in 2015.
What happens if whatever team that signs Chapman undergoes the same fate? It may not seem likely now, but it didn’t seem likely for the Phillies, either. Chapman will be making twice the money and has significantly more baggage with him than Papelbon, which is not easily accomplished.
Additionally, more than any other position in the game, elite closers change rapidly.
Look at the St. Louis Cardinals over the last two years. In 2015, Trevor Rosenthal had a dominant year. He saved 48 games, had a 2.10 ERA, and struck out 83 batters in 68.2 innings. That was only his Age 25 season.
In 2016, Rosenthal flamed out. He had a 4.46 ERA, a staggeringly bad 1.91 WHIP, and lost his closer job to Seung-hwan Oh. Oh finished the year with a 1.92 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 103 strikeouts in 79.2 innings. He did all of that with a $5 million contract (via Spotrac).
Stories like that are not strange. Something similar happens to multiple MLB teams each year. Good closers can be found for much less than $100 million. Remember, Chicago traded for Chapman and certainly was thinking that he’d be the man on the mound for a World Series win. How did that work out?
Chapman’s talent is unquestionable. The team that lands him will get one of the game’s best closers. But if that team pays close to $100 million, it will be setting itself up for years of frustration. Conversely, the teams that miss out will lose out on his talent, but will catch a long term break.