It sure does seem like the San Francisco Giants are half of the way to committing to a long-term deal with free agent third baseman Matt Chapman.
You’ve got Matt Williams, the most revered third baseman in the history of the San Francisco Giants, talking him up to the media.
Matt Williams, a 5x All-Star and 4x Gold Glove third baseman who played against Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones and coached Manny Machado, called free agent 3B Matt Chapman "the best that I've ever seen at the position."— Danny Emerman (@DannyEmerman) November 16, 2023
Full quote: pic.twitter.com/El8CF5L8FG
This is some hot Matt on Matt action with a side of Playing the Game the Right Way kink thrown in for good measure. It’s the sort of full court press you’d expect when something is imminent, a leading indicator that popped up about ten days ago:
Free-agent third baseman Matt Chapman attended the GM Meetings today. He spent several minutes chatting with Giants manager Bob Melvin.— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) November 8, 2023
Not only did Williams go long and hard on his fellow Matthew, Bob Melvin chimed in yesterday, too:
Bob Melvin on free agent Matt Chapman:— KNBR (@KNBR) November 16, 2023
"It's a name that's come up, and certainly one I have history with, one that Matt Williams has history with." pic.twitter.com/DDcjyQ1EA3
So, it certainly feels like a done-ish deal. That’s not a totally bad thing, I guess, but it is curious. Yes, the Giants could very much benefit from his services, but the timing of this just doesn’t quite make sense with, you know, with Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto still unsigned.
Why would the Giants do a full court press talking up a guy who isn’t considered to be a top of the market free agent as though he is a top of the market free agent? Let’s examine it.
A name brand
Baseball fans in the Bay Area know the name Matt Chapman. They know what he’s about. And if the Giants are committed to absorbing the A’s fan base — and I think that’s likely — this would be a really strong move in that direction.
Just think about it:
- They hired the A’s former manager during their last window of success
- They hired one of the minds involved in that last window of success
- They made sure the A’s got the boot from the market
Greg Johnson and Larry Baer see in Farhan Zaidi the chance to remake the franchise as a low-cost, mildly competitive financial behemoth (in a slowly dying city?). If part of that plan involves coming off as the generous new stepfather to the A’s fanbase, then gathering as many A’s totems as possible makes a lot of sense.
Matt Chapman is neither Marcus Semien nor Matt Olson, sure, but that just makes him more of a Giant — good, but not quite good enough. That said, it’s not often that the third baseman who’s won the AL Gold Glove four of the last six seasons, most recently last week, is available in free agency. Usually, when that type of player is available, he’s at the very end of his career. Chapman turns 31 at the end of April (more on that in a bit).
Sure, he reflects all those intangibles Matt Williams made up, but mostly, fans know him, they love him, they probably want some more of him.
One of the most valuable players in the league last season
Then there’s just the straight statistical argument. He is a really good, perhaps even great player. His 3.5 fWAR was 49th-best in MLB in 2023, and 29th in the AL.
This seems like a notion that does sort of stick in fans minds across the league but maybe there are some who think, “That was a long time ago. Is he still good?” Yes, he’s still good. Or, at least, he was last season. His .240 batting average and .330 on base percentage were his best in those categories since 2019.
Hits the ball really hard
I can’t stress this enough: the Giants don’t have a lot of players who can do that.
In 2023, Chapman’s 93.4 average exit velocity was in the top 2% of the league. His max exit velocity of 114.3 mph was in the top 8% of the league. Statcast’s weighted on base average based on the quality of contact had Chapman at .430 wOBACON, 56.4% Hard Hit rate (top 1% of the league).
Although his 17 home runs in 2023 represented a career-low based on a full season (he hit 14 in 84 games in his debut season with Oakland in 2017; 10 in 2020), he did hit 39 doubles. That was 4th in the AL (7th in MLB). Thrice in his career has he hit 35+ doubles in a season.
Here is a list of Giants who have hit 35+ doubles in the Oracle Park era (since 2000):
(I didn’t highlight Pablo Sandoval for any particular reason. I just left the cursor over his name when I snapped the image.)
Sure, you’ve got your Pillar season and a surprise Aaron Rowand season in there, but otherwise, good right-handed hitters who aren’t necessarily big home run guys (Kent excepted) have done well in the park because of their ability to hit gap to gap.
By all the scanning measures, Chapman would’ve been either the best hitter or second best hitter (after Joc Pederson) on the 2023 Giants.
But there are a couple of caveats with him...
It could all be downhill from here
He turns 31 on April 29th, which is only a bad thing because it’s professional sports. Post-COVID (his last three seasons), he’s hit .226/.322/.420 (.743 OPS), but the last two seasons with Toronto have been a bit better: .234/.327/.429 (.756 OPS).
I’m going to pick a random starting point of 2015, when Statcast was finally setup in all stadiums, and look at how many 31+ year olds have had .750 OPS+ seasons (minimum 400 PA) since. Stathead gives me 237. If I refine the search to players who were at third base for at least 80% of their appearances, that list drops to 18:
This is a solid list, to be honest. Still, we’re talking about a long-term deal (let’s assume/hope 5 years at most) and a .750 OPS (Chapman’s last one was .812 in 2020) is not that high a bar for a free agent who’d be penciled in as a middle of the order bat (or at least paid to be one). And so when I cluster this list by age I get a little concerned.
31: Nolan Arenado (2022), Kyle Seager (2019), Josh Donaldson (2017), Todd Frazier (2017), Justin Turner (31)
32: Nolan Arenado (2023), Max Muncy (2023), Yunel Escobar (2015), Martin Prado (2016), Justin Turner (2017)
33: Josh Donaldson (2019), Todd Frazier (2019), Evan Longoria (2019), Justin Turner (2018)
34: Justin Turner (2019)
The only ones older on this list, as you can see, are Adrian Beltre and Justin Turner (a Hall of Famer and freak, respectively). Now, a big part of that is injury. Evan Longoria’s games played were incredible until the Giants traded for him. Not everybody is Nolan Arenado, either.
Indeed, Josh Donaldson, the Athletic whom Chapman ostensibly replaced, is simply a better hitter. Most of the third baseman on this list have been better than Chapman. 5 years, $96 million or whatever ludicrous surchage the Giants will have to pay is going to largely be for his glove.
Michael Conforto and/or Mitch Haniger 2.0?
Now, Matt Chapman does not compare to the Conforto and Haniger situations, where the Giants were willing to overpay for short term pillow deals for guys who, if healthy, could impact the lineup better than any prospect and without hurting the player development pipeline by having to acquire similar production through pricey trades.
Chapman rejected the Qualifying Offer, which is $20.325 million this season. If the Giants sign him, they’d surrender their 2nd-highest draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool money in addition to whatever the CBT figure winds up being. Remember: we don’t actually know how much money the team has or wants to spend this offseason.
Would the Giants really surrender the pick, the international bonus pool, ~$19+ million in a CBT figure for a 31-year old third baseman who will, essentially, be replacing Joc Pederson’s bat (although, plausibly, mirroring some of Wilmer Flores’s production from the right side)?
And would they do that in concert with either signing Ohtani (the next-highest draft pick and another $500,000 in bonus pool money and $40+ million on the CBT figure) or a posted player? In either the case of Yamamoto or Lee, no draft pick or bonus pool money surrendered, but the posting fee is based on a percentage of the final deal. Yamamoto’s alone could figure $40+ million (which doesn’t count against the CBT) and that’s before the average annual value of the final deal (which does count against the CBT).
Conforto and Haniger wound up being a pair of holding actions once the team “struck out” on Judge and, eventually, embarrassed themselves over Correa. They had some money to spend and they spent it on guys who were “close enough” to improving the team, despite all the obvious red flags. They wound up feeling like retreats. Now, when I look at what I just wrote it seems like I’m suggesting the Giants are messing with us.
Maybe they are. It’s tough to see all the orchestrated marketing of Bob Melvin that involves his relationship with “Pacific Rim players” which plays into the Yamamoto, Lee, and (tangentially) Ohtani part of the offeason and square that with the full court press for Matt Chapman just as free agency kicks off. It feels a little too neat, playing to the base’s desire to get drive thru McFlurries while also reminding them there’s carton ice cream and sundae fixings at home. Fans win either way, but it feels like a trick to save some money.
And look, Matt Chapman has no red flags except his age and his vaguely lackluster hitting line (relative to what he’ll likely be paid). Like Shohei Ohtani, he satisfies the team’s need to bolster its public image even if he doesn’t fit every need or fix all (or even most) of their on-field problems.
If he wound up being The Big Move of the offseason, it’d probably be in concert with five other moves, similar to what we got last offseason. It wouldn’t be ideal and it would probably fail like it did this season, but it’d all be perfectly logical, motivated by strictly rational behavior.
At the same time, tipping your hand about Matt Chapman at the start of the offseason really robs the next two months or so of any entertainment value.