For the last two winters, Yankees fans have had the image of Aroldis Chapman giving up a home run lingering in their heads. The Yankees closer has now been on the mound in the moment when their fate was sealed in two straight years. Last week it was a fastball to the Rays Mike Brosseau. Last year it was a slider to Jose Altuve.
But even with that history, which includes giving up a big home run to Rajai Davis in the 2016 World Series with the Cubs, there are no concerns about Chapman in the Yankees front office.
“I think (Chapman) is a really talented closer and exceptional at what he does,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said during Wednesday’s 2020 season wrap-up press conference. “Some end results, at least here and with the Cubs you can point to. I know when given the opportunity with victory at hand, I feel extremely comfortable — and Aaron Boone does, as well — with Chappy. He’s typically converting those and I have full confidence in Aroldis Chapman. Certainly, I’m hopeful many times next October, if we’re fortunate to qualify (for the playoffs) — we’re in the situation to hand him the ball.”
Chapman pitched in just 13 regular-season games of an already coronavirus pandemic-shortened 60-game 2020 season. The 32-year-old tested positive for COVID-19 within days of arriving in New York for the second spring training. He did not return to active duty in the Yankees bullpen until Aug. 17.
The right-hander said that he never felt the symptoms of the vicious virus and was able to work out as much as possible in his New York apartment, which was obvious to anyone who follows his Instagram feed. The long-term effects of the virus are unknown and Chapman returned to games in what was effectively late spring training form. He struggled to get his velocity up at first and then struggled with his fastball command.
But he was firing 100-mile an hour fastballs by the playoffs and Chapman simply tipped his hat to Brosseau after the season-ending loss. He admitted the last two season endings have been rough, but that is the risk of his role.
“I feel terrible. You know, nobody in our team wants to lose the game. Nobody wants to lose. I don’t, I particularly do not want to lose,” Chapman said through Yankees interpreter Marlon Abreu. “As a closer of this team, part of my responsibility is to go into a game where it’s either we’re going to win or we’re going to lose and it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen both ways. It’s tough. But I do have a tough mind and you gotta put it aside and you got to keep moving.”
The Yankees will be moving forward with Chapman, but maybe his recent hiccups make it a little more imperative that they pick up the option on Zack Britton.
They have to decide whether they want to pick up what is essentially a two-year option for $27 million for Britton. If they decline to do so, Britton has the option to continue with the Yankees through 2021 at $13 million or he can become a free agent.
The lefty reliever with extensive closing experience would get a lot of interest on the free agent market normally. The gamble for Britton — and what the Yankees have to figure out quickly — is what this post coronavirus-pandemic season free agent market will look like. Owners have made it very clear they have lost significant earnings this year operating their teams without ticket sales and many believe that will drive down the prices on free agents this winter.
Wednesday, Cashman said the team had not discussed the option yet, but was full of praise for Britton on and off the field. As the Yankees’ players’ union rep, Britton did a lot of the heavy lifting during labor negotiations for the season, including working out the players and union logistics for a last-minute series with the Orioles when the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak affected four teams’ schedules.
On the field, Britton was just as good. He allowed four earned runs over 20 appearances of 19 innings of work. The former closer stepped in when Chapman was out with COVID-19 and converted eight of eight save opportunities.
In the American League Division Series, Britton pitched four scoreless innings after having allowed two runs in his only appearance against Cleveland in the AL Wild Card Series.
Britton has proven to be a trustworthy part of the Yankees’ bullpen and is a solid option when Chapman is unavailable. While the Yankees do not have concerns about Chapman’s ability to close, it would not hurt to have some very high quality insurance and an excellent set-up man.
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