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Factors the Blue Jays should consider before re-signing Matt Chapman

Will the Blue Jays reach a long-term pact with third baseman Matt Chapman this winter?  (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Will the Blue Jays reach a long-term pact with third baseman Matt Chapman this winter? (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

The Toronto Blue Jays are still very interested in Matt Chapman. The latest reports from around the league indicate that the free agent third baseman is seeking a long-term contract (four or five years) and upwards of $100 million.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume the Jays pursue Chapman at this term. Is this a wise decision? And how will this affect the next cap crunch after 2025, when most of Toronto’s players will be eligible to hit the open market?

Let’s see.

Meet an immediate need

The 2024 Blue Jays desperately need an anchor like Chapman at third base. Although he wasn’t exceptionally useful in attack last season, the 30-year-old offers a higher floor than any other internal on-pitch option the club could deploy for the coming year.

If Toronto wants to have a whiff of the World Series in 2024, it needs to have a Chapman-style player in the lineup: an everyday guy with a rigid routine and an unwavering glove at third. The California native is consistent with his approach at the plate – sometimes to a fault – and his attitude in the clubhouse. Poll any of the Jays players, and they can probably name a specific trait of Chapman’s that helps the team.

The Blue Jays will be fine if Chapman hovers in the .750 OPS range again in 2024. Addison Barger, Davis Schneider and even Orelvis Martinez could complement any lack of sizzle in Chapman’s offensive game. At worst, Chapman is Evan Longoria of 2023. At his best, he’s back into the 25-plus home run range.

Chapman’s final years

The Blue Jays would like Chapman to return for a $20-25 million term for 2024 and 2025. He’s a lock. These are the last few years that should give Toronto pause. There’s the contract freeze, which I’ll talk about in a moment, but there’s another scathing reality: hitters like Chapman don’t always age gracefully.

What does Chapman do best? Well, he’s a hard-hit god, often finishing among the major league leaders in average exit velocity, hard hit rate, and barrel percentage. This is all great, and his power could easily carry over into his age 35 season. But Chapman’s flaws will become more pronounced, perhaps to the point where they overshadow his other hitting tools.

Chapman might never hit above .250 for the rest of his career, and that’s fine, but it’s his swing-and-miss tendencies that are the most concerning. When Chapman connects on errant throws, they usually leave the yard. The problem in 2023 was that Chapman never seemed calibrated on feasible pitches.

The third baseman’s strikeout rate remained largely unchanged from 2022 to 2023, but his breath rate and swing and miss numbers in the zone increased, bolstering the eye test evaluation. Whether it was a problem with his plate vision or a mechanical error with his bat trajectory, something was wrong in 2023. Ultimately, the swing and miss stats in Chapman’s zone looked more like his 2021 season – his career-worst campaign.

Hitters adapt as their careers go, and Chapman will certainly retain his muscle, but if he’s constantly missing makeable pitches at age 30, it’s hard to believe he’ll suddenly start capitalizing on those same pitches at 35 or 36 years old. Only time will tell.

A coming ceiling crisis

The Blue Jays are at a crossroads when it comes to granting long-term extensions. Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Chris Bassitt, Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza and Erik Swanson are all free agents after 2025. Not everyone will return, which will free up cap space, but a Chapman extension will clog also the payroll which can be used to retain these key players.

Like I said, 2024 is no problem, but if the Blue Jays want to keep both Guerrero and Bichette – or even one of them – then there will be huge contracts going on in 2026. Say, for example, Chapman makes $25 million in 2026. If you’re a Jays fan, would you rather have a 33 year old Chapman or both Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson in your bullpen?

There’s also the question of how long Toronto’s competitive window will remain open. George Springer and Kevin Gausman will be free agents by 2026, but if the Blue Jays aren’t contenders by then, it’s much harder to justify a high salary for Chapman, especially when there are internal options cheaper at third base or other depth needs. that must be addressed.

On top of that, who knows where the club’s budget will be in 2025 or 2026. If Toronto is not competitive, will Rogers ownership mean a considerable reduction in payroll? Questions, questions, questions.

Verdict

If Chapman re-signs in Toronto, it will be on the assumption that the club takes advantage of a long-term deal to lure him for 2024 and 2025, when they desperately need him. In a perfect world, the Blue Jays sign Chapman to a two-year contract and let him go when the front office needs money for Bichette and Guerrero. But in a weak free agent class, Chapman will likely receive other four- or five-year offers this winter.

It’s a very difficult decision. There aren’t a lot of certainties in baseball, so when you find a consistent player with a fantastic work ethic, fine tools and good character, it’s hard to let him go. At the same time, every club has a financial tipping point – a place where a player is simply too expensive and whose production can be imitated by a bunch of youngsters.

If Toronto can get Chapman to a four-year, $100 million deal, that’s not a problem. More length or more average annual value, and the Blue Jays are better off elsewhere.