Toronto Blue Jays Internal Options if Matt Chapman Signs Elsewhere

With Matt Champan heading to free agency, should he not return, the Blue Jays have a few internal candidates to turn to in 2024.

Blue Jays
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 17: Matt Chapman #26 and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrate after their MLB game victory over the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre on April 17, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays have been stagnant so far this offseason, missing out on the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes while also letting numerous roster players from the 2023 squad head to free agency.

The most notable name of the group is third baseman Matt Chapman, with the defensive-minded infielder declining the club’s qualifying offer while trying to score big on what is considered a pretty weak free agent class. Chapman leads in the infield contingent and will likely score a big payday this offseason for whichever club needs to upgrade at the hot corner with a veteran player with a solid fielding track record amidst a streaky power bat.

There is a chance that Chapman could return to the Blue Jays, as both sides have expressed a deal at some point this winter, although there is also a scenario where Toronto will have to move on from the California product. While the club could lock down a free agent like Evan Longoria or Justin Tucker at third base, the club does have a few players that could step up to be the everyday third baseman in 2024 (and beyond) should Chapman not return.

Santiago Espinal

If the Blue Jays do not find an external candidate to fill in at third base, there is a strong case that the role would be Santiago Espinal’s to lose heading into next season.

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The Dominican product was an All-Star in 2022 but fell on hard times last season, finding inconsistent playing time en route to a .248/.310/.335 slash line with 16 extra-base hits to the tune of a .644 OPS.

The bat has never been Espinal’s calling card compared to his fielding ability, as the infielder boasts a +11 DRS across the diamond since making his big league debut in 2020.

While he has spent more time at second base over his career, the right-handed bat has over 802 innings at the hot corner and should get a considerable look this spring if the Blue Jays sit pat on the free-agent market and improve the roster elsewhere.

With the potential to see some increased playing time, Espinal likely has the advantage over the internal options given his MLB experience. The only hope with this move is that he fares better than Biggio did when he was given the chance to take over third base.

Orelvis Martinez

The Toronto Blue Jays have churned out some strong infield prospects over the past few seasons and Orelvis Martinez is next on the list to make a big impact.

Martinez differs from Espinal and Chapman in that his calling card is the bat, as the Dominican product possesses raw power that has been on full display the past two seasons to the tune of 58 home runs through 881 at-bats across Double-A and Triple-A.

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At just 22 years old, Martinez is still developing and improving his game, evident by how he cut down on the strikeout rate last year while seeing an increase in competition with the Buffalo Bisons late in the year.

The righty-batter will need to keep refining his approach at the plate as he continues but one can’t argue that his power isn’t big-league ready and a strong Spring Training will go a long way for the infielder.

Defensively, Martinez has split his time between shortstop and third base but the hot corner is his likely calling card in the long run. Interestingly, the Jays have experimented with Martinez at second base in 2023 so the club could be playing their hand at where they believe his potential lies on the field looking ahead. If the bat can continue to produce early and third base is open for the taking, Martinez should be given a fair shot to make the trek North to start the 2024 season.

Addison Barger

One of the most exciting Blue Jays prospects to finish the 2022 season, Addison Barger was gearing up for a 2023 campaign that had fans believing that a big league call-up could be on the horizon for the Washington product.

Injuries unfortunately derailed those plans, as the 24-year-old found himself missing over a month and a half early in the season and wound up finishing the year in Triple-A instead.

An athletic player with the ability to play multiple positions, Barger has spent most of his big league career at shortstop but also has a solid resume at third base, including 721 innings at the hot corner with a .910 fielding percentage. The ceiling is very high on Barger, especially since he can hit for both contact and power at the plate. With the Bisons last year, the righty-batter collected 34 extra-base hits with a .756 OPS with 52 walks, finishing the year with a .353 OBP.

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Barger is likely on the outside looking in compared to Espinal and Martinez but anything can happen in Spring Training and if he can find that raw power in the batter’s box, the argument could be made to bring him to Toronto in some capacity (whether on the bench or at third base).

Honorable Mentions

Ernie Clement

Picked up by the Blue Jays during Spring Training last year, infielder Ernie Clement produced when he was with the big league club, going 19 for 50 (.380) with 10 RBIs while riding the options bus between Toronto and the Bisons in triple-A.

With the Jays last year, Clement spent more time at shortstop compared to third base but he does have over 49 games at the hot corner throughout his big league career. While a spot on the bench may be in Clement’s future, if Espinal struggles early and the New York product can produce at the plate again, he could usurp his teammate for an increased look a third base this season if the club decides to not use him in a utility role.

Damiano Palmegiani

The Venezuelan-born, Canadian-raised Palmegiani had arguably one of the best campaigns for a Blue Jays prospect last year.

He spent most of the season in Double-A, but saw some late action with the Bisons to finish out the year, collecting 23 home runs and 93 RBIs before a successful trip to the Arizona Fall League to round out the year (.941 OPS with six home runs).

Palmegiani will likely be heading to big league Spring Training camp in a few months and while he is likely a dark horse candidate to crack the Opening Day roster, the third baseman proved in 2023 that he could hang at the hot corner and will be on the Jays radar throughout next season.

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