$100 Million for a Closer is Not as Absurd as you Think

As the hot stove starts to warm up, there are rumors swirling that closer Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are both seeking deals worth $100 million. My first thought was that they are being ridiculous, but if we actually take into account how valuable a strong bullpen, and especially a closer is, they have a point.

At the trade deadline, Chapman and Andrew Miller both had high price tags. Miller’s value was greater because he is still under team control for two more years. Of course there’s more to consider, but it’s no coincidence that Chapman and Miller were the closers of the two teams that reached the World Series. Miller also was named MVP of the ALCS. Jansen is also one of the elite, and his team went to the NLCS.

Indians manager Terry Francona also is responsible for changing the way closers will be used moving forward. This was more common in the postseason because every out is crucial, but Francona was using Miller in the highest leverage situations, no matter what inning it was since he arrived in Cleveland. Later in the postseason, Dave Roberts and Joe Maddon followed Francona’s philosophy, although it almost cost Maddon a World Series championship by overusing Chapman. I do believe that it worked in Cleveland the most because Francona had Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen as insurance later in the game. If Buck Showalter followed course with Zach Britton, maybe the AL Wild Card game is a different result.

The most expensive contract awarded for a reliever so far is four years and $50 million to Jonathan Papelbon when he was with the Philadelphia Phillies. That number is expected to be smashed this winter. Papelbon did not finish his contract with the Phillies after being shipped to the Washington Nationals. Mark Melancon is not in the same category as a Chapman or Jansen, but even he should surpass that number.

Chapman and Jansen showed their dominance throughout the postseason, and many teams had to be thinking that they could use someone like them. A team that won’t compete for the next few seasons or those that would not be thought of as trade deadline buyers should not consider giving a $100 million contract to a reliever. Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball reported that the Marlins were interested in Jansen, and were intrigued by the idea of a “super-pen.” The San Francisco Giants, the New York Yankees, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are the teams that have mostly been linked to these two closers. And the Yankees already have an All-Star reliever in Dellin Betances.

It’s also worth noting that when most of the top players in the game reject the qualifying offer, the contracts they sign have an annual salary that is higher than $17.2 million, which is where the qualifying offer stands. Jansen and Chapman are the best at what they do, so where is their “raise” from what the qualifying offer stands at? Is a five-year deal worth $100 million that crazy for someone who impacts the game the way these top-flight closers do?

Contracts are also more of a reward for what you have done in this league rather than what you will do for your upcoming team. And with Chapman and Jansen, the numbers are telling. In 2016, Chapman had a K/9 of 15.0 and Jansen’s was 13.6. They both also had a WHIP under one. When closers come to mind, we think of dominance. The season Britton had also plays a role in this year of the relievers on how valuable they are in this league. WAR is a stat that mostly recognizes starters, but Britton’s WAR was 4.3, and Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello‘s WAR was 5.0.

Also, the free agent class for starting pitching is subpar, and Chapman and Jansen are going to receive the largest contracts among pitchers. The Giants and Dodgers are expected to go hard after these closers, and for Jansen, the Dodgers are going to have to overpay to make sure he does not end up with their rival San Francisco Giants. The Giants will also have to overpay if they want to lure Jansen away from Los Angeles.

The biggest moves at the trade deadline were for closers. The top pitchers on the free agent market are Chapman and Jansen. The market for relievers should always be different than the market for starters. They don’t deserve seven-year, $215 million contracts, but $100 million is not as much of a stretch as it seems. The suitors for these pitchers are also big-market teams not afraid to spend if necessary, so they will drive the price up along with the the weak class of starters.

Would it be an overpay? Yes, but that doesn’t make it a bad move, which makes this idea not that absurd.

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