Third baseman Matt Chapman has spent the past two seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and will become a free agent for the first time in his career this offseason.
The California product spent five years with the Oakland Athletics after being a first-round draft pick back in 2014, eventually getting shipped North of the border just prior to the 2022 season for four prospects. A deal eerily similar to the Josh Donaldson exchange between the two sides back in 2014.
With the A’s, Chapman produced highlight-reel defensive plays while collecting 155 home runs and 426 RBIs to the tune of a .790 OPS through 573 games.
A defense-first type of player with three Gold Glove and two Platinum Glove Awards to his name, Chapman will be one of the top names available this winter given the current free agent market, which is primarily thin at the hot corner considering Manny Machado and Rafael Devers are no longer free agent bound.
After earning $25 million over the past two seasons with the Jays, Chapman is due for a raise and could benefit from the weaker free-agent class (outside Shohei Ohtani) should teams look to bid for his services.
The Blue Jays Qualifying Offer
The likelihood of the Jays presenting Chapman with the $20.5 million qualifying offer is high but there is a potential scenario where Toronto decides to let him walk, utilizing internal options to play third base next season and potentially use the funds elsewhere on the roster.
The Jays have a few players who could step up and take the spot if one is available but it would be a risky play considering the Jays postseason contention window is currently at its peak. There’s also the debate of whether Chapman should/would accept the offer depending on whether the Jays present him with one, which comes with its own set of pros and cons.
The biggest downside to accepting the offer would be not utilizing the current free agent class, as he is light years ahead of the next best option(s) at third base this offseason. Should he accept and wait til next offseason, he could potentially have to share the spotlight with Alex Bregman, who is free-agent eligible. Lots could change before now and then but there is a solid argument to be made to head to free agency this offseason compared to next year on that fact alone.
If Chapman were to accept the QO, he would have another season to try and pad his stats after a rollercoaster 2023 campaign.
Chapman was one of the hottest players to start the year, posting a .384 average with 15 doubles and five home runs while taking home Player of the Month honors for April. The right-handed batter was seeing the ball well and collected 11 hits through his first five games and was leading the league in the doubles category at one point.
That high would not last, as Chapman would struggle to find that consistency the rest of the way, finishing the year with a .240 average (highest mark since 2019) while posting a .659 OPS from May onwards, eventually finishing at .755.
His 17 home runs were the lowest mark of his career (outside the shortened 2020 COVID year) dating back to his rookie campaign and he owned a 28.4% strikeout rate at the plate this season, the fourth-highest total amongst all qualified third basemen.
While the stats may not have played in his favor at times, Chapman was still putting barrel to the ball, sitting above the 95th percentile in Barrel% (17.1%), Average Exit Velocity (93.4 MPH), and Hard-Hit% (56.4%), showing that the raw power and ability to square the baseball were still part of his gameplan.
Defensively, Chapman saw a slight dip where he finished with a .968 fielding percentage and 12 errors but also dealt with a middle finger injury down the stretch, which may have hampered both his bat and fielding ability.
Despite the errors, Chapman still finished with a 12 DRS and was in the 87th percentile in Outs Above Average, marks that should see him earn some contention for the Gold Glove Award this season. His athleticism and ability to make tough plays look easy is definitely a positive that respective teams across the team will be looking for this winter.
Teams looking for a third baseman
If the Blue Jays fade on the idea of an internal replacement for third base, a reunion with Chapman whether it be through the QO or a long-term deal could be in the cards.
The Jays are apparently willing to spend this offseason per CEO Mark Shapiro and some notable contracts are coming off the books such as Hyun Jin Ryu, Brandon Belt, and Kevin Kiermaier, giving the front office some payroll flexibility.
Chapman is also open to the idea of returning as well, speaking to Ethan Diamandas at Sports Illustrated, “[The #BlueJays] really care about their players, and there’s nothing that they wouldn’t do for you. So I have a lot of respect for everybody in this organization and definitely open to coming back.”
Should he decide to hit the open market, the two teams in New York could be interested although there are some question marks depending on whether the respective clubs want to give some of the prospects some additional reps at the spot.
The Mets boast former top prospect Brett Baty at the hot corner but he struggled mightily last season (.598 OPS through 101 games) while the Yankees used five different players at third this past season but could give some increased looks to Oswald Peraza or Oswaldo Cabrera moving forward.
Some other teams potentially in the third base market this offseason include the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Miami Marlins.
Chapman and the looming free agency
It will be interesting to see how Matt Chapman’s free agency pans out this winter. It will start with whether the Blue Jays will offer the third baseman a qualifying offer and whether or not he accepts the one-year deal will be front and centre.
A trip to free agency this winter could lead to a big payday looking at the free agent market but a ‘bet on yourself’ one-year contract could lead to more money next winter should he improve his numbers, although that would be a riskier option.
Regardless of whatever path he chooses and how the offseason unfolds, the third baseman will be looking to cash in with super agent Scott Boras leading the charge for his client.