Chapman’s Giants deal means no one’s coming to rescue Blue Jays’ lineup

Toronto Blue Jays' Matt Chapman plays against the Boston Red Sox during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Monday, May 1, 2023, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Let’s start with this. Matt Chapman does a lot of things well, and he’ll help the San Francisco Giants. He could have helped the Toronto Blue Jays, too.

Even with Isiah Kiner-Falefa expected to cover third base regularly and prospect Addison Barger working his way up through the upper minors of the Blue Jays’ system, this team still would have been stronger with Chapman. He would have raised their floor and their ceiling. Their payroll, too, even with Chapman taking a relatively modest three-year, $54-million deal from the Giants that includes opt-outs after each of the first two seasons.

The Blue Jays did have interest in Chapman, of course. That’s why they made him a one-year, $20.325-million qualifying offer when the off-season began and why they stayed in touch as the winter unfolded. But as the off-season developed and Chapman’s market progressed slowly, the Blue Jays appeared to move on, signing Kiner-Falefa and Turner, both of whom have played third extensively.

Saturday morning at Blue Jays camp, manager John Schneider spoke highly of the player who posted a .756 OPS on his way to 7.9 wins above replacement in two seasons with Toronto and confirmed the team’s interest.

“Yeah, I mean we talk to a lot of guys,” Schneider said. “Happy for him with the deal that he landed. I know it’s a certain point in camp and I’m sure he was chomping at the bit a little bit. We stayed in touch with Matt, like we do every free agent, really. But, I’m sure he’s happy to be home on the West Coast and things like that. Awesome guy. We loved having him here and wish him the best.”

Even with Kiner-Falefa and Turner in place, there was a case to be made for adding Chapman. Whatever flaws he has as a player — the high strikeout rate or the .659 OPS after last April, for instance — are offset by some significant strengths. He has real power, runs the bases well and remains a well above-average defender as measured by Outs Above Average. Bolstering his case further, projection systems like Chapman, with ZiPS (4.0 WAR), Steamer (2.6 WAR) and The Bat X (3.6) all forecasting well above average production for the coming season.

Does that warrant a seven-year deal, the kind some said agent Scott Boras was seeking when the off-season began? Probably not. As one high-ranking evaluator said, “He’s really good, but that defence is hard to sustain as you get further past 30.” But we’re not talking about a seven-year deal here. Three years is a relatively low commitment for a Giants team that previously had Wilmer Flores pencilled in at third.

Then again, that doesn’t mean anyone could have had Chapman on those terms. Consider that he’s from California, that the Giants train in Arizona, near his Phoenix-area home and that they’re managed by Bob Melvin, his long-time skipper across the bay in Oakland. Plus, the Giants showed serious interest early in the winter, meeting with Chapman in person at the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona.

With that in mind, you can’t just copy-paste that deal and assume the Tigers or the Cubs or the Blue Jays could have signed him on those terms. Give the Giants credit — they negotiated with Boras and landed a 30-year-old All-Star for less than the Astros spent on designated hitter Jose Abreu this time last year. It may be the best move president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has made this off-season.

As for the Blue Jays, we’ll see how their bet on Kiner-Falefa pays off. He, too, has won a Gold Glove at third base, but he doesn’t have the same offensive ceiling as Chapman, who has topped 20 home runs four times. When the off-season began, few industry observers had Chapman getting just one more year than Kiner-Falefa, but here we are.

The Blue Jays like the team they have, even if the biggest position player deal they signed this winter was Kiner-Falefa’s two-year, $15-million contract. No one predicted that when the off-season began with rumblings the front office would swing big on a hitter.

At this point, it’s clear there’s no big free-agent signing around the corner. Whether or not you like the Blue Jays’ lineup, no one’s coming to rescue it. It’s the existing group that will determine how far this team goes.

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