Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that there is a “one million percent” chance Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman will opt out once the season ends.
Just going by the math this makes perfect sense, of course.
Chapman signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees before the 2017 season. Pursuant to the terms of the deal he’ll make $15 million a year in 2020 and 2021 (he was given an $11 million signing bonus that was finished being paid out last year). This past season the qualifying offer was $17.9 million. Craig Kimbrel of the Cubs just signed a deal that will pay him $16 million in 2020, 2021, and 2022 (he’s making a prorated $16 million this year). Other top closer salaries at the moment include Kenley Jansen ($19,333,334); and Wade Davis ($18 million).
It’s fair to say that Chapman fits into that group and, I think it’s safe to say, more teams would take him than those guys if they were all freely available. As such, Chapman opting out to get more money makes all kinds of sense. Heck, opting out, getting slapped with a qualifying offer, accepting it and then hitting the market unencumbered after the 2020 season would stand him in better financial stead than if he didn’t opt-out in the first place.
The question is whether the Yankees will let it get that far or whether they’ll approach him to renegotiate the final couple of years on the deal or to add some years onto the back of it. If they’re smart they will.
Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija recently reached 10 years of service time, an achievement he celebrated with his teammates. Samardzija was thinking about the big picture, though, realizing that is going to take players longer and longer to reach 10 years of service time now that front offices have become so adroit with service time manipulation.
Per Kerry Crowley of The Mercury News, Samardzija said, “I think we need to make sure as a union that we reassess our work time when it comes to days of service and options. We need to make sure one option can’t be 10 call-ups and call-downs where you can just use this guy as a swing guy and he never accumulates any time.”
A player who still has minor league options (they start with three) can be yo-yoed between the minors and majors as many times as his team deems necessary while only using one option. In this sense, the player has no control over his fortunes. Teams hadn’t really taken full advantage of this imbalance of power until recently as front offices became increasingly savvy. This has worked in tandem with the annual song-and-dance from GMs every year in which they make up phony excuses to keep their top prospects stashed in the minors until they secure an additional year of contractual control.
Samardzija said, “It’s easy to say we need you to go down to Triple-A and work on your glove or work on hitting left-handers. ‘Well you don’t ever start me against left-handers so how can I improve my numbers there?’ I definitely think it’s happening on both sides, I’d say it’s just as prevalent with pitching and position players.”
This kind of service time manipulation may not seem like a big deal, but it snowballs over time. A player can be held down and/or optioned to the minor leagues just enough to prevent him from accruing a full service year (172 days). Players become eligible for free agency after six service years. A team that opens a season with a 24-year-old and never options him will see him leave for free agency after his age-29 season. If that player is instead promoted in mid-April, when the player’s maximum service time for the season is 171 days, the team will have contractual control over his age-29 season as well. That player won’t become a free agent until he’s 30 years old. As free agency has shown us in recent years, front offices have grown quite skeptical of free agents in their 30’s, so this tiny bit of service time manipulation could cost players millions of dollars down the road. The spirit of this is not that much different than employers cutting a full-time employee’s hours so they no longer qualify for employer-based health insurance.
Samardzija is right to express concern over service time manipulation. It is heartening to see an increasingly labor-conscious group of players as well, as the members of the union seemingly grew complacent over the years which allowed ownership to take decisive victories with recent collective bargaining agreements. The current CBA expires on December 1, 2021. We should be hearing plenty more about the players’ concerns within the two-plus years remaining.