The Toronto Blue Jays are still very interested in Matt Chapman. The latest reports from around the league indicate the free-agent third baseman is seeking a long-term deal (four or five years) and upwards of $100 million.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume the Jays pursue Chapman at that term. Is that a wise decision? And how will it affect the upcoming cap crunch after 2025, when most of Toronto’s roster will be eligible to hit the open market?
Filling an immediate need
The 2024 Blue Jays desperately need an anchor like Chapman at third base. While he wasn’t exceptionally helpful on offence last season, the 30-year-old offers a higher floor than any other internal infield option the club could roll out for this upcoming year.
If Toronto wants a whiff of a World Series in 2024, it must have a Chapman-esque 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 supplement any lack of sizzle in Chapman’s offensive game. At his worst, Chapman is 2023 Evan Longoria. At his best, he climbs back into the 25-plus home-run range.
Chapman’s later years
The Blue Jays would love Chapman back at a $20- to $25-million term for 2024 and 2025. That’s a lock. It’s the later years that should give Toronto pause. There’s the contract clog-up, which I’ll address in a moment, but there’s another stinging 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. That’s all great stuff, and his power could easily stick around until his age-35 season. But Chapman’s flaws will become accentuated, perhaps to the point 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 trends that are more concerning. When Chapman connects on mistake pitches, they usually leave the yard. The problem in 2023 was that Chapman never looked calibrated on hittable pitches.
The third baseman’s strikeout rate remained largely unchanged from 2022 to 2023, but his whiff rate and in-zone swing-and-miss numbers ticked up, reinforcing the eye-test assessment. Whether it was a plate-vision issue or a mechanical miscue with his bat path, something was off in 2023. In the end, Chapman’s in-zone swing-and-miss stats more closely resembled his 2021 season — his career-worst campaign.
Hitters adjust as their careers go on, and Chapman will certainly maintain his muscle, but if he’s consistently missing hittable 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.
An upcoming cap crunch
The Blue Jays are at a crossroads when it comes to handing out 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, and that’ll free up cap space, but a Chapman extension also clogs up payroll that can be used to retain those core players.
As I said, 2024 isn’t a problem, but if the Blue Jays want to retain both Guerrero and Bichette – or even one of them – then there will be massive chunk contracts on the books in 2026. Let’s say, for example, Chapman is earning $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 still contenders by then, it’s much harder to justify a hefty salary for Chapman, especially when there are cheaper internal options at third base or other depth needs that to be addressed.
On top of that, who knows where the club’s budget will be in 2025 or 2026. If Toronto isn’t competitive, will Rogers ownership suggest a slash in payroll? Questions, questions, questions.
If Chapman re-signs in Toronto, it’ll be under the premise that the club is soaking the long-term deal to lure him in for 2024 and 2025, when he’s desperately needed. In a perfect world, the Blue Jays sign Chapman to a two-year contract and let him walk when the front office needs the cash for Bichette and Guerrero. But in a weak free-agent class, Chapman is likely receiving other four- or five-year offers this winter.
It’s a very tough call. There’s not much certainty in baseball, so when you find a consistent player with a fantastic work ethic, polished tools, and good character, it’s hard to let him go. At the same time, every club has a financial tipping point — a spot where a player is simply too expensive and whose production can be emulated by a gaggle of youngsters.
If Toronto can work out a four-year, $100-million contract with Chapman, that’s fine. Any more term or any more average annual value, and the Blue Jays are better off elsewhere.