From 1995 to 2013, Mariano Rivera made 652 saves in 1,106 regular-season games, and when he took on the role of closer in 1997, the Yankees were set for the duration of his career.
While other teams constantly shuffled through closers aside from stints on the injury list and during the final five months of the 2012 season, the Yankees never faced life without Rivera until 2014 — the year after his retirement.
Since Rivera’s last appearance, 33 pitchers have made a combined 387 saves, including three-inning variety blowout wins. Most prominent among the various names was Aroldis Chapman, who will reportedly sign a one-year contract with the Kansas City Royals for a base salary of $3 million with an additional $4 million in various performance awards.
Chapman earned roughly $100 million over seven and a half seasons with the Yankees, who brought him out of Cincinnati in December 2015 over a domestic violence incident that led to a 30-game suspension earlier in the 2016 season. His half-season with the Yankees was so effective that the Cubs dumped Gleyber Torres, a top contender whose first two seasons in New York went extraordinarily well before a two-year decline and slight recovery in 2020 and 2021 result in he being traded or receiving less than he wishes should he reach arbitration.
The Yankees then re-signed Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract in December 2016, which was the largest contract by a reliever at the time, but has since been cut short by the $102 million deal that the Mets gave Edwin Diaz to early had signed, the off-season was eclipsed. It was also renewed for another year for $18 million after he signed out after the 2019 season, which ended with him allowing a two-run homer for Jose Altuve in Game 6 of the ALCS in Houston.
After making 20 saves in his first 31 appearances for the Yankees in 2016, Chapman made 133 of his 153 saves when he returned to the team after contributing four saves and helping the Cubs end their 2016 title drought. He was still the flamethrower in his first three seasons, amassing 81 saves but eventually losing pace into the high 90s and eventually losing command.
The command issues were highlighted in a series of disastrous performances, such as on June 30, 2021 against the Angels when Jared Walsh made a wild comeback in the rain, and on July 4, 2021 when he did not retire any of the three batters in the seventh of a five- Run-inning against the Mets, resulting in a 10-5 loss.
In 2022 he was even less effective and caused more nervousness among the fans in some of his 43 appearances. Due to the effectiveness issue, the 11 different players recorded at least one save and Clay Holmes was pushed into the role. Holmes was initially successful, producing an extremely high ball rate and making 20 saves, but he also struggled with injuries and the Yankees made various efforts to protect him in the postseason.
By then, Chapman had thrown the last of his 4,665 pitches in six regular seasons since returning to the Yankees. He angered fans by contracting an infected leg while getting a tattoo in August, and then angered the Yankees by not showing up for mandatory practice on Oct. 7 when the team wanted to see how he was doing in the live batting practice would beat.
It capped a final season in which he posted a 4.46 ERA and a 1,431 WHIP while often appearing in lower-leverage situations.
Statistically, Chapman peaked in the first three years of his contract with the Yankees, but the decline was dramatic and led to him being on track for one of those “prove-it” deals. It also reinforced how difficult it can be to make saves when a team doesn’t have an all-time great in the last inning.
And perhaps the less lavish contract will prompt a return to his former self of sorts after he reportedly spent part of his offseason training with Cuban boxing legend Yordenis Ugas, who defeated Manny Pacquiao in 2021.