The New York Yankees have built strong endgame relief crews since the mid-90's -- Mariano Rivera to John Wetteland, Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton to Rivera, David Robertson to Rivera, Dellin Betances to Robertson, Betances to Andrew Miller and Betances and Miller to Aroldis Chapman. Presently, the Yankees do not boast such a combination.
Fortunately, there will be three elite relievers on the free agent market this offseason from which the Yankees can pursue to pair with Betances. Which is the best fit?
The fireballer is a certain target because of his recent stint in New York, combined with the fact that he stated directly after his trade deadline move to the Chicago Cubs that he would consider a reunion with the Yankees. The Yankees enjoyed a three-headed relief monster (Chapman with Betances and Miller) for half of the season, so getting back to two-thirds of the combination would be alluring.
Chapman was able to handle any of the supposed New York "pressure" after coming from Cincinnati and seemed to gel well with his teammates. Chapman was must-see baseball during a time that the club was anything but watchable. Chapman's performances are highly entertaining; simply stated, he puts fans in the seats.
That has to be a factor, considering Chapman, who turns 29 before next season, could be earning the top salary for a closer in major league history. The Yankees can sign Chapman without losing their first round draft pick by virtue of the trade negating his eligibility for a qualifying offer.
As for Chapman's performance, it was exactly as expected in 2016. He was very good in New York and then stellar for Chicago after the deal. Chapman is generally used for one inning appearances and has performed well thus far in the postseason (5 1/3 IP, 1 ER, 9 K). Since becoming a full-time closer in 2012, Chapman owns 181 saves, 1.84 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a 15.7 K/9 ratio in 313 regular season innings pitched.
There is still the issue of his domestic violence history, which will never go away. Some fans took the trade in stride, deciding they could root for the player (and team) while not condoning his actions. Others took the opportunity to show their disdain for Chapman.
The way I see it, Chapman is a strong option. The financial cost is of little concern to the Yankees due to the fact that there is no draft pick to worry about losing, which has implications for a team that currently owns the No. 17 pick in the 2017 draft. The draft position could improve if teams ahead of them sign players who were tagged with a qualifying offer (and New York does not).
The Yankees absolutely need someone to team with Betances, and a familiar face who has had success with the club is hard to ignore. The fact that Chapman is a left-hander adds to his appeal in case the Yankees decide to employ a bullpen without defined roles.
Jansen, like Chapman, is hitting the free agent market for the first time after seven seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jansen, a right-hander, has long been considered an elite closer. He has done so under similar media attention that he would garner in New York. Jansen, however, does not come with any of the off-the-field questions that saddle Chapman.
From a contract standpoint, it can be argued that Jansen should warrant very similar contract terms to Chapman. Jansen's statistics since 2012 match up nicely to Chapman's - 180 saves. 2.22 ERA, 0.86 WHIP with a 13.6 K/9 across 328 innings.
Jansen has displayed this postseason that he has the ability to lock down more than three outs per appearance and that he can handle any extra pressure that the playoffs present. Jansen has tossed 7 1/3 innings this postseason and has allowed four runs (all in one appearance) and struck out 13 batters. Jansen was spectacular in the deciding division series game, throwing a career-high 51 pitches, and then two scoreless frames in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
The one hinge with Jansen is that he will most certainly have a qualifying offer made to him. Of course, the Dodgers will be strong competitors for his services for one of the same reasons the Yankees would be comfortable with Chapman, familiarity. If the Dodgers go on to win the National League Championship Series and then the World Series with Jansen producing like he has to this point, it might persuade Los Angeles to stick with their man.
The last elite reliever available on the open market is also a former Yankee. Melancon, a right-hander, has pluses and minuses compared to Chapman and Jansen.
Melancon will not have a qualifying offer attached to him as he was traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Washington Nationals before the trade deadline. Melancon, 32 when the 2017 season begins, will not require the expenditure that the other two relievers will insist and the contract length might be a bit shorter in length as well. The Yankees are not penny pinchers by any means, but any bit of savings here and there does allow salary to be dispersed elsewhere across the roster.
None of this potential discount means the Yankees would be receiving a thoroughly lesser reliever for the price. Melancon has been among the top performing closers over the last few seasons. Since 2013, Melancon has racked up 140 saves with a 1.80 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with an 8.3 K/9 rate.
Melancon differs from Chapman and Jansen in that he is an extreme ground ball machine, generating 56.1 percent ground balls among balls put in play. Melancon is also better at avoiding walks than the other two relievers with a walk rate of two batters per nine innings throughout his career (Chapman - 4.1 BB/9, Jansen - 2.6 BB/9).
Finally, Melancon has been used to a larger workload, surpassing 70 innings in each of the last four seasons. However, like the other two relievers almost all of his appearances have been one inning or less of work.
In my view, the Yankees will likely pursue Chapman first. There will be significant competition from teams like the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers, and the Cubs to name a few teams with the money and the need for an elite reliever.
Chapman will probably be the first of the three relievers to sign, then Jansen and finally Melancon. If the Yankees are outbid for Chapman, I imagine they will be equally aggressive in their pursuit of Jansen or Melancon.
Chapman and Jansen could earn as much as $75-80 million across five seasons, bringing each to their age-33 season. Meanwhile, Melancon could earn a three-year, $39-42 million contract in my estimation, which would bring him through his age-34 season. Anything more than that for either pitcher could bring extremely diminished returns as the contracts conclude.
If the Yankees fail to sign any of the three hurlers, they will be forced to use Betances with Tyler Clippard at the end of games. The Yankees have some interesting arms in the system to aid Betances and Clippard, but their faith in Betances as closer might have been tested at the end of the 2016 season when he experienced significant failures.
I believe the club prefers to sign one of the established relievers and revert Betances back into the fireman role he seems to thrive in. With three exceptional choices, I would expect the Yankees to do everything in their power to get their wish.