Contrast between Blue Jays and A’s not lost on Matt Chapman in Oakland return

Watch as Matt Chapman acknowledges the crowd after returning to his former home ballpark in Oakland for the first time since being traded from the Oakland Athletics to the Toronto Blue Jays during the off-season.

OAKLAND, Calif. — The memories hit Matt Chapman at nearly every turn while encountering so many familiar faces during his first visit to Oakland since being traded by the Athletics.

“Emotional,” is the way he described being on the reunion end of the all-too-familiar cycle of buildup and teardown in these parts, completing the star player in green and gold experience.

“When I was on the A’s, I guess you don’t really think about how long it would be — everybody knows that you’re probably not going to be there forever,” says Chapman, speaking in the Coliseum’s visiting dugout wearing Toronto Blue Jays gear. “Once Marcus (Semien) and Liam (Hendriks) left (after the 2020 season) and they didn’t re-sign, it started feeling like maybe that window was closing a little bit, and then obviously this last year you saw what happened.”

What happened was a three-week demolition of a team that posted three consecutive playoff appearances before running out of gas last year.

Righty Chris Bassitt was the first to go, sent to the Mets on March 12, followed by Matt Olson to Atlanta two days later and Chapman to the Blue Jays for Kevin Smith, Zach Logue, Kirby Snead and first-rounder Gunnar Hoglund, two days after that. A brief respite followed before Sean Manaea was dealt to San Diego on April 3.

Even for the Athletics, the purge was notably ruthless.

How much more that core could have accomplished if they had not only been kept together, but gasp, even augmented, is now left to the imagination because the A’s experience is always finite.

That’s in contrast to what the Blue Jays, who purged their core from 2015 and 2016 in pursuit of the type of competitive window they’re in right now, are trying to achieve, a difference not lost on Chapman.

“We obviously have a bunch of talent on this team and we have goals of winning a World Series and it feels like it can be sustained because we have guys signed to long-term deals,” he says.

“And it’s not even always about that. We have a clear vision of what our goals are from top to bottom. We know our identity. We’re a team that wants to win now and we’re going to show up every day trying to win the division. With that goal in mind, it makes it easier to know that, hey, we’re here to win and due to the contracts and guys we have on our roster that it’s going to be continued.”

The keeping it going part is where GM Ross Atkins must thread the needle.

The Blue Jays have spent significant prospect capital — including their first-round picks from the past two years — in recent trades to fortify the current group and clear needs remain, particularly on the mound.

How to balance future needs by not stripping down the farm system too far while also ensuring the opportunity for the 2022 club is maximized is where Atkins and company must do their best work. Scrap-heap dice rolls like Sergio Romo, who got one out in Monday’s 5-1 loss to the Athletics, and Anthony Banda, who threw a scoreless inning of relief in his Blue Jays debut, are well and good, but impact is needed, too.

Money won’t be an issue as the Blue Jays can take on money at the trade deadline for a productive fit, but spending their financial capital as smartly as their prospect capital is essential with no significant money coming off the books this fall barring a trade.

The club is open to some creativity, perhaps even trading one regular for another under the right circumstances, but the clear needs are for leverage help in the bullpen and starting depth, at minimum, if not a boost for the rotation.

That the Blue Jays have the resources to pull those types of deals off makes Chapman grateful.

With the Athletics, “I learned how to compete. I learned how to focus on the right things,” he explains. “It doesn’t always have to be the big flashy things. It really is about winning baseball games and what does that mean to you, and learn how to get yourself prepared and learn how to not complain and sweat the small stuff.

“That makes me appreciate where I’m at so much now because I come to Toronto, it’s a little bit different environment and just makes me appreciate all the resources and things that we have here and just super thankful.”

Chapman has kept tabs on the Athletics’ seemingly endless pursuit of a new stadium, which got a boost last week when the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission voted to allow Howard Terminal, the site targeted for a $12 billion ballpark and real estate plan, to be used for non-port activities.

Further approvals are still needed, though, while the possibility of a move to Las Vegas lurks in the background.

“I think that the A’s should stay in Oakland,” says Chapman. “I’ve seen it, I’ve seen this place packed before, they have the fans. There’s more that goes into it than just getting people in the stands. Maybe some people aren’t happy with the front office, whatever it is. But I hope that they can get a stadium. They deserve a stadium in Oakland. They deserve a nice stadium that people can come and enjoy baseball at. But it’s still not going to be an easy task.”

Neither is starting over with a new team, which Chapman learned first-hand this spring.

While his defence has been impeccable from the jump, his bat has only recently started to come around. A .571 OPS in May gave way to an .851 OPS in June while his July has started slowly, with no hits in 15 plate appearances over five games.

Still, his .212/.287/.390 batting line with 11 homers, 37 RBIs and 40 runs scored combined with his defensive impact have made him an important contributor while finding his place on the Blue Jays.

“I think I was putting a little bit of pressure on myself early to just come in here and make a big statement,” says Chapman. “Once I got past that, obviously I got more comfortable with my teammates, spent some more time with them, hitting a few homers, making a few plays, helping the team makes that a little easier. Getting to know my teammates and talking to them, they’re like, ‘Hey, man, like, you don’t have to prove anything to us, we’re here. … You’re just here to do your part.’ That’s something that I’m not always used to doing. I want to do more.

“To know that my teammates supported me whether I was doing good or not that they still believe in me, that’s huge because at the end of day, I really want to just help this team win.”

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