When the lockout ends, the Blue Jays should be looking to trade for Matt Chapman, red flags and all
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Depending on how long the lockout goes, the Toronto Blue Jays will have a flurry of moves before the 2022 season starts and they’re widely expected to seek an infielder, one who can provide some form of impact. That is backed up by their pursuit of Corey Seager before he signed with the …lol…Texas Rangers. While Seager may have been a special case target, it does show the kind of impact they’re setting their sights on. It is not a big leap to look for them to attempt a trade for Jose Ramirez, but it says here that a deal for Matt Chapman will provide the most bang for their buck, despite him having some red flags.
Sure, JRam would definitely be a major upgrade at third base. He is a switch hitter, which would help the ‘lefty’ issue that seems to be a priority for many fans. He is an elite hitter who can steal bases and plays solid defense. Unfortunately, a 6 fWAR player with two more very affordable years of team control will cost a mint. If you think that Jose Berrios cost a lot, you might not want to even think about trading for JRam. Enter Matt Chapman.
Chapman has the same amount of team control remaining with a lower salary, so you might think that he would be even more expensive in trade talks. The issue with Chapman is that he comes with a couple red flags that may make some teams (and their fans) pause. The first issue is that Chapman is a right handed hitter and everyone and their dog is saying that the Blue Jays are prioritizing a left bat this winter to add more balance. But, I have to agree with Andrew Stoeten that good hitters are good hitters, regardless of which side of the plate they hit from, which means that if you can land a good righty bat, you don’t walk away just because he’s a righty.
A bigger concern for some might be the injury he dealt with a labrum tear in his hip in 2020, which understandably impacted his production. While he didn’t hit the IL in 2021, there is still some question as to whether he was still impacted by the surgery required to repair the injury. We know that when a MLB player is performing at an elite level and they get hurt and don’t return to that level when healed, there is always lingering question about the health of said player, which, in Chapman’s case, could bring his trade value down a bit.
However, there is a more alarming concern for Chapman and it has to do with his penchant for swinging and missing. Recently, Anthony Franco of MLBTR wrote an article for subscribers about the high strike out rate from Chapman. 2021 saw him put up a K% of 32.5% after 35.5% in 2020. If injury was the cause, you would think his 2021 mark would have improved more than it did. Perhaps, he picked up some bad habits while trying to hit with a hip injury and he never quite got back into a solid rhythm. Even more alarming than the overall K% is the fact that the 28 year old has whiffed on fastballs down the middle at a clip 10% higher than before he was injured.
Players striking out used to be my biggest pet peeve. It’s why I have soured on Randal Grichuk and others. It’s a wasted out. Very little production can happen after a strike out. It’s worse than a bunt. However, after reading a piece by JFtC’s Jim Scott, I have learned to be OK with strike outs. Jim does a great job explaining why the dreaded whiff isn’t such a big deal and I HIGHLY recommend you read it. Essentially, when you crunch numbers, the strike out doesn’t hurt a team as much as we might think. If we apply that to Chapman, his K% might look ugly, but it might be worth looking the other way for everything else he brings to the table.
If you are still concerned about his high strike out rate, there may be some hope out there. The Blue Jays have some success in this department. I looked up a couple hitters and their K%. When Bo Bochette came into the league, he struck out at a rate of 23.6%, but working with the coaches (and likely his dad), he was able to lower his K% each year to sit at 19.9% in 2021. Not enough of a change for you? Well, how about Teoscar Hernandez? When Toronto traded for him in 2017, he hadn’t had an at bat for Houston and saw 95 plate appearances for the Blue Jays. His K% was 37.9%, worse than Chapman’s 2020 rate. Since then, Hernandez has lowered his K% to 24.9% in 2021. This is hardly an in depth, scientific study, and we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples, given ages, etc., but perhaps there is reason to think that Toronto can work with Chapman to improve this area.
Even if they can’t, they would be trading for an elite defensive third baseman who put up a league leading 17 OAA last season. If his hip was bothering him, it didn’t hurt his defense. His OAA was also made up of 5 OAA going toward first base, which could also help Bichette and his defensive production. Santiago Espinal was fine with the glove, but he’s no Chapman. If the Blue Jays are serious about winning, the opportunity to improve their defense this much has to be tantalizing.
Perhaps a move to the AL East and the hitter friendly parks can help Chapman return to his 30+ HR self. Perhaps the Blue Jays can work with him and improve his K%. Combine these with Gold Glove defense and he is an impossible target to pass up. And, he would cost less than Jose Ramirez while producing almost as much…without the stolen bases. Baseball Trade Values‘ simulator suggests that Jordan Groshans straight up could get a deal done. In reality, that won’t be enough of a return for Oakland to signal a rebuild of sorts. Perhaps adding a Pardinho and a Kloffenstein could get it done. Really, speculating on what a deal would, could or should look like is a fool’s errand since we don’t really know how Oakland values players in Toronto’s system. But, a package like the one that brought Josh Donaldson to Toronto isn’t crazy. And, we don’t miss any of the pieces given up by the Blue Jays.
At the end of the day, Matt Chapman has some red flags. He strikes out a lot and is coming off hip surgery. But, those flags can be ignored for a guy who is projected to put up 3.5 fWAR, but who could easily pass that. I’ve been saying it for a very long time: Bring me Matt Chapman!
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.