The Blue Jays took a bit of a calculated risk by trading for Matt Chapman last winter, and the veteran third baseman has delivered in spades.
The now 29 year old was once considered to be among the top young players in the American League, but injuries had derailed him for a couple seasons. The former Oakland A’s slugger finished 7th in AL MVP voting in 2018, and was even better in 2019 with a 6th place finish, an All-Star appearance, and a second consecutive Gold Glove. That year he slashed .249/.342/.509 with 36 home runs and 91 RBI, and was worth a whopping 7.8 bWAR over 156 games played.
What hurt Chapman’s value was what happened over the next two seasons as he navigated a recovery from hip surgery. He slashed just .232/.276/.535 over a small sample size of 37 games during the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, and then followed it up with a line of .210/.314/.403 with 27 home runs and 72 RBI last year as he continued to work his way back to his previous All-Star form.
Hip injuries can definitely be tricky, so there was always a bit of a gamble with Chapman and the Blue Jays understood that. It’s an injury that can take a long time to fully recover from, and while he was able to play most of the last two seasons, the three-time Gold Glove winner has mentioned a few times that he still wasn’t 100%. The Blue Jays made the trade with Oakland this past winter in hopes that Chapman would find that form that made him an MVP calibre player, and these days it looks like he’s feeling great.
It really helped that the Blue Jays didn’t need Chapman to be THE guy when they brought him to Toronto, and instead he could find a way to contribute in a deep and dangerous lineup. It was a slow start to the year, but once the calendar flipped to June he’s been one of the most important players on the roster, quietly going about his work on both sides of the ball. He carried the team at times in July when he slashed .325/.396/.699 with nine home runs and 22 RBI over 83 at-bats, and he’s been heating up again lately at just the right time, including a pair of home runs against the Orioles in an important series-opening win.
I know many fans, including yours truly, were hoping to see Jose Ramirez in a Blue Jays jersey for the 2022 campaign. His left-handed bat would have fit in beautifully in Toronto, and I suspect that it’s an issue that the front office will try again to address again this winter. That said, trading for Ramirez would have required a massive package going back to Cleveland, and without knowing for certain I will still suggest that Alejandro Kirk would have been headed to the Guardians. Instead, the Jays sent a much more palatable group of players to Oakland for Chapman that included Gunnar Hoglund, Kevin Smith, Zach Logue, and Kirby Snead. With all due respect to that foursome, the Blue Jays did a nice job of turning quantity into quality here.
The numbers are one thing, but Chapman’s impact in less tangible ways has also been very obvious to see. Whether that’s his likeable personality in the clubhouse, his influence on a still-developing defender in Bo Bichette, or the way he helps to set the bar with his work ethic and commitment to his craft, the Blue Jays have been very fortunate to have Chapman around in 2022. After signing a two-year deal to cover his remaining arbitration years, he’ll have at least one more season in Toronto before he becomes a free agent, assuming the front office doesn’t try to get another contract done before then.
Regardless of how it works out in the end, I would argue that Chapman has provided the Blue Jays with pretty much exactly what they needed this year. No, he’s not the left-handed hitter that we’ve spent two years talking about, or an MVP candidate to add to an already dangerous group, but considering the acquisition cost and the small risk that Ross Atkins and company took when they made the deal, bringing Chapman to Toronto is one move that has certainly worked out well.