Keep or Walk: Matt Chapman is a top name on the free-agent market despite an uneven season
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
By Evan Stack1 month ago
Since Ross Atkins has been the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, his teams have had some interesting pending free-agent decisions once they enter the offseason. Whether it was Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion after the 2016 season or Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray after the 2021 season, Blue Jays media and fans have had their fair share of debates about who to keep or who to let go.
This year, the Blue Jays have a few free agents that could make an argument for returning to the team. Obviously, there are others who will lay on the contrary and want the team to move on from them.
We’re starting a quick series to recap each of Toronto’s free agents and if the team should retain them or let them walk, and we’re starting with one of the more intriguing names with the man at the hot corner, Matt Chapman.
The case to keep Chapman
This one is simple, really. While Chapman has shown legitimate power with the bat, his bread and butter is with this glove at the hot corner. His three Gold Gloves defend that, and with all due respect to Ramon Urias, Chapman had a credible argument for that award in 2022. Chapman is also one of five Blue Jays that were recently named finalists for the Gold Glove award this season.
Since joining the Blue Jays, Chapman has logged a 97.9% fielding percentage with only 17 errors, the same number of errors as Manny Machado and less than the likes of Nolan Arenado, Jose Ramirez, Eugenio Suarez, and others over that same time span.
Pivoting back to his power, Chapman is tied for the second-most home runs on the Blue Jays since he joined the team. He arguably had his most productive month in his career back in April in which he won American League Player of the Month, posting a .384/.465/.687 slash line with 38 hits, 5 homers, 21 RBIs, and 15 doubles. Although his numbers did decline throughout the remainder of the season (we’ll get to that in a bit), Chapman finished fourth in the American League in doubles with 39, and he has been worth at least 3.5 wins or higher in each of the past three seasons.
Chapman has also proved to be extremely durable, playing in at least 140 games in each season since 2018 (save for the COVID season in 2020).
Finally, and this might not matter to a lot of people since this is a results oriented business, but I think Chapman’s presence has been beneficial to Toronto’s clubhouse. At least from the fan’s eye, Chapman developed rapport with Bo Bichette, his mate on the left side of the infield. His pregame routine and work ethic clearly became noticed by his peers, and he’s offered a lot of advice and teaching points to his fellow teammates.
During Yusei Kikuchi’s adverse 2022 campaign, Chapman was one of the outspoken team members who were in support of the struggling left-hander. Mike Wilner of the Toronto Star reported that Chapman was “rattled” when he found out that Kikuchi offered to take a demotion, stating, “I think I’m going to go talk to (Kikuchi) and let him know that (he’s) a lot more valuable than (he thinks he) is, because he doesn’t need to be getting optioned and I think there’s still a lot of great things he can do for this club.”
I’ve also been somewhat of a fan of Chapman’s willingness to speak his mind, whether it was his “I’m not even sure how you guys know that that [team meeting] happened” with a head shake after finding out John Schneider told the media about a team meeting earlier this year, or him laying into Schneider after pitching to Shohei Ohtani back in July.
The case to let Chapman walk
As with many power hitters, Chapman does come with a concerning strikeout rate. While his Baseball Savant numbers are glowingly red in the Barrel %, Average Exit Velocity, and Hard Hit % categories, he is also in the depths of the blue numbers in Whiff % and Strikeout %. Chapman finished 11th in the AL in strikeouts this season, and he’s not been a stranger to those territories during his career. After his sizzling start to the 2023 season, Chapman finished the last five months of the season with a .205/.298/.361 slash line.
The Blue Jays are coming off one of the most underwhelming offensive seasons in their history (relative to their personnel, of course), and they should be looking to improve their offence at any opportunity. However, this free agent class isn’t as impressive as recent ones, so there are really only one or two players who could be an upgrade at the plate at his position.
An interesting component of Chapman’s free agency is the money he and his team seek. The third baseman market is one of the most expensive in all of baseball; Manny Machado is on an 11-year, $350 million deal, Rafael Devers starts a 10-year, $313.5 million deal this year. Nolan Arenado is on a 9-year, $275 million deal, and Jose Ramirez is on a 7-year, $141 million deal, to name a few. I’m not the contract expert, but I would guess that the Blue Jays won’t want to pay Chapman anything like the above over an extended period of time.
Chapman will turn 31 in April of next season, which is even more of a reason for the Blue Jays not to ink him to a deal longer than a few years. Furthermore, the Blue Jays have internal options to consider at third base. Cavan Biggio really didn’t look that bad when filling in for Chapman. Do they hand that position back to him? Addison Barger and Orelvis Martinez will likely make their debuts in 2024 – could one of them be the man at third?
After the season’s end, Chapman expressed that he was open to coming back to Toronto, but with free agency, it takes two to tango. It comes down to how much the Blue Jays value his defence versus how much they value his offence. One of the top gloves in the game warrants a substantial payday, but does his predictable offensive output – power bat with high strikeouts and a low batting average – bring the amount of money down?
It’s important to note that Chapman is eligible to be presented with a qualifying offer of roughly $20.5 million this year, so there is a chance he could return on that one-year deal instead of signing a long-term deal. Having Chapman around for another year could be the perfect bridge into the next third baseman for the Blue Jays, and it wouldn’t cost them an arm and a leg to do so.
However, as I mentioned earlier, this year’s free agent market isn’t eye-popping, and Chapman is one of the biggest names on that list. With that said, the odds of a team giving him the large payday increase, and I don’t think it should be the Blue Jays. The Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Mets are other teams that would make sense, given their positional need and/or payroll capabilities.
I’d say he’s worth bringing back on the qualifying offer or potentially a two-year deal with an AAV close to the QO. But, if they do that, the Blue Jays should bring him back with the mindset that he will spearhead their infield defence while continuing to pursue offensive reinforcements. In other words, Chapman can’t be their best offensive “acquisition” this offseason.
Recent articles from Evan Stack
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- Keep or Walk: Brandon Belt, the MVP of the Blue Jays, is contemplating retirement this winter