You know what? I was 100% ready to come on here and say “No, don’t even bother with Chapman. Save your money, Mariners, and maybe look to make a deal sometime mid-season, once you know where you need the most help.”
But, I’ll be honest, I don’t really know much about Matt Chapman, other than what I’ve gleaned from the way people talk about him on the radio and on the Internet. When I hear about someone having personality defects in sports, I feel like that can go any number of directions, but it seems to me, if you’re hearing it from a media personality, then that means the particular athlete in question just doesn’t like talking to the media. Now, maybe where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and bringing a Matt Chapman into your clubhouse is a recipe for inviting cancer into your body. But, my guess is, if he’s doing well, and/or the team is doing well, I’m sure he’s a fine teammate. Winning and success tend to cover a lot of warts.
I also didn’t really know that much about Matt Chapman the ballplayer. I hear he’s a good defensive third baseman. Sounds like he’s got some pop in his bat, but maybe not so hot with the batting average, and will increase your team’s strikeout rate. He’s probably good enough with getting on base, but also his best days are almost certainly behind him.
After looking at his stat sheet, that’s more or less all true. What I was expecting was to see someone who absolutely cratered in 2023, but that’s far from the case. He’s been in the league since 2017, and other than the COVID-shortened season, he’s had at least a 3.2 WAR every year (and that rookie campaign of a 3.2 WAR was limited to 84 games). We’re talking about a guy who – at his very best – was an MVP-calibre player (7.6 and 7.8 WAR in 2018 and 2019 with the A’s). But, his last three years have been pretty damn good, with no less than a 3.5 WAR between Oakland and Toronto. Indeed, he actually had his third-best career WAR season last year with 4.4!
That’s all while averaging $12.5 million per year over the last two years. Considering he’s yet to sign and Spring Training has already started, I would say his value hasn’t skyrocketed. My guess is, you could probably get him on a similar deal today if you offered it to him. And $12.5 million for a 3.5-4.4 WAR guy is kind of a bargain in this day and age!
Now, compare that to a likely platoon of Luis Urias (who, it was announced today, had shoulder inflammation at the start of camp, and had to be shut down for a couple weeks) and Josh Rojas. They combined last year for a 0.3 WAR. Neither is all that good defensively. Their best seasons were both in 2022, when they were at 3.1 and 3.2 WAR respectively. But, considering they both played at least 119 games, it’s not like you can add those two numbers together and hope for a replication of that. Also, that was kind of an outlier year for Rojas; his next-highest WAR was 0.8. Urias had a 3.3 WAR in 2021, but again, I don’t know how likely that is to be replicated in 2024, given his injury history and his performance level in 2023.
What I fear people are thinking is that the Mariners are just one player away. I think we all can agree that the Mariners have a significant problem at third base. It would be a considerable upset if things pan out at that position; my guess is – at best – we’ll get replacement-level production (with a strong likelihood that we’ll be sub-replacement-level). So, when people dismiss Chapman, the thought process becomes, “Well, with our starting pitching, and a good bullpen, the Mariners can survive one black hole at third base.” But, that’s a faulty assumption.
You can’t go into this thing thinking there will only be ONE weak spot; there’s going to be multiple. Somebody’s going to get hurt; likely multiple somebodies, given the histories of some of these guys. Somebody’s going to have a down season – a season that’s not reflective of their recent past that we’re anticipating will continue – for reasons that will mystify. And, again, probably multiple somebodies will have down seasons, or at the very least go long stretches struggling to make an impact. So, signing Matt Chapman isn’t a case of the Mariners papering over their lone blemish; it’s filling one significant hole on a team that’s practically guaranteed to have more than one. It’s a means to try to mitigate some of the damage, and put a competitive product on the field.
The Mariners have done quite a bit this offseason, given their self-imposed constraints. But, overall, they haven’t done enough. This feels like a team that’s poised to beat up on crappy teams, but get bowled over by the good ones. What does that get you? Right around .500, maybe a little over, but ultimately a few games short of the playoffs.
What does Matt Chapman get you? 3-4 wins! That MIGHT just be the difference between a wild card berth, and being a game or two out. Of course, that assumes he does actually come down to Earth on his asking price. It’s hard for me to believe that Seattle would be an attractive place to try to boost your value on a prove-it type of deal. But, if there are no other suitors, he might want to go somewhere that would surely give him an everyday role, on a promising, up-and-coming team. How many open third baseman jobs are there REALLY? I’d venture to guess not many.