Maybe just sign Matt Chapman?
There’s beauty in simple solutions—and the Mariners should explore this one.
Hey, another quick aside. If you’re on Mariners Twitter, you know Christopher Crawford. If you’re not, you may still be familiar—because his work has been almost everywhere across the broader baseball mediascape. You’re probably already subscribed to his YouTube show, My Oh Why. If you’re not, you should change that.
I’m adding this aside because Christopher could use some help. He’s dealing with a level of grief I can’t even fathom and, on top of that, a strain on financial resources.
We’re all in this together. If you have the means, even a little bit, reach down and lend a hand to help get Chris up and off the deck.
You ever find yourself trying to figure out a gift for someone, having a hell of time and then just pay to make the issue go away?
Stay with me—you have no idea what to get a sibling for Christmas, they unrelatedly say they’re eying buying something for themself at 30 to 50 percent more than you were planning to spend on them but you pay the premium to have the task completed and associated anxiety relieved. Not only is that awesome for you but you’re also getting them something you know they’ll like.
That is the Mariners and Matt Chapman. Like buying your brother a golf bag.
We’ll start with the context and then move into the player himself.
The Mariners took the scenic route to end up in a familiar position. Jerry Dipoto and his regime were given the unenviable task of making the club significantly cheaper while also not making it worse.
And they’re a little bit better. I think they’re a little bit better.
But they’re in the position they were much of last year, where it was clear they were a good team. A solid team. They were not and are not a great team. They have a chance to make the playoffs, but I wouldn’t call it probable.
It’s gonna take a lot breaking right to win the division, something the organization hasn’t done in the lifetime of people who have now graduated college.
If you want to do something big, you have to add. And not this tinkering stuff, the M’s need a move that nets three-plus wins on its own, ideally more. You know a great way to make sure you net multiple wins on a move?
Not give anything up.
What a concept!
Darren Gossler—who keeps closer tabs on the intricacies of Mariners payroll than anyone, and is someone the organization has credited themselves (via Divish) for his accuracy—has the Mariners right now at $118 million in projected 2024 salaries.
I know, I know, FanGraphs differs but even they have the Mariners 18th in projected 26-man payroll.
On this publication, I will continue to largely reject the so-called financial restraints this organization leaks out anonymously through various sources. Again, figure it out.
But hell, I’ll meet you halfway.
It’s not a lot to ask to say the Mariners should still quite easily have another $20 million to spend before Opening Day, whether that’d land them at $138 million or closer to $150 million.
We’re talking absolute middle-of-the-road payroll for a team starting with three of the ten or so AL Cy Young favorites.
Plus, you’ve always liked Matt Chapman. They know it, we know it.
If there’s one type of player Jerry Dipoto likes, it’s a player Jerry Dipoto liked three years ago. And if there’s two, it’s also first-round picks. (You’re never gonna believe this—)
Let’s get the most important piece of information out of the way first. And because we cheer for an unserious baseball team incapable of investing in the roster to a level commensurate with the opportunity at hand, that’s the contract.
The most valuable resource when it comes to contract forecasting is FanGraphs’ crowdsourced projections, which you can see on their Free Agent Tracker.
Matt Chapman’s projected contract: Four years, $80 million for a $20 million AAV
Maybe he gets a little more because the market is running a bit hot (though the AAV differences have largely been marginal) or maybe he gets a bit less because spring training starts in like three weeks.
Either way, a $20 million AAV is an anchor point I trust.
Is he worth it?
Now, free agents are just different.
You’re paying for past performance, for hopefully about what they just did and then, unfortunately, for ensuing decline. It isn’t the most efficient way to spend dollars but the alternative, acquiring ascending stars either pre-arb or in their first year, costs a lot more than dollars to bring in.
They cost good prospects who can eventually become good, cheap Major League players.
To get good players, it’s going to cost you. You can move around the timeline and the denomination, but it will cost financial resources no matter what.
Why Chapman, then?
The floor is so high. At least it should be. Run prevention isn’t the sexiest thing in the world, despite Jack Z and Tony Blengino’s best attempts, but defense wins you games. And Matt Chapman is very, very good there.
When you think of Matt Chapman, you tend to think of the shine wearing off after his monster 2018 and 2019 campaigns.
His three post-pandemic seasons, two of them in Toronto: 4.1 fWAR, 4.2 fWAR, 3.5 fWAR.
Over that span, the last three seasons, he’s a top 30 position player in the game, sandwiched between Alex Bregman (28th) and Carlos Correa (30th).
Great defense provides a hell of a foundation. And defense can decline with age, too—of course. But have you seen Matt Chapman? Dude is a specimen. Built like a quality SEC quarterback.
On top of that, he knows the value of availability. He’s played in more than 140 games every season he’s been given the chance (so excluding his limited rookie stint and the 2020 season).
There’s a reason why some guys are a better investment than others. Having value that comes from multiple avenues, like the bat and the glove, makes a big difference. So does having that value out on the field almost every day.
What about the bat? What the hell’s going on there?
The FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent rankings have a synopsis on his 2023 at the plate that’s better than I can put together quickly.
Matt Chapman ran a 216 wRC+ in March and April, turned ice cold in May and June, ran a 154 wRC+ in July, then turned ice cold again. His season was also broken up by a sprained middle finger in August. He ran a 114 wRC+ before the injury and a 75 wRC+ after it, though it’s likely that Chapman’s BABIP was more to blame than the injury; he was at .335 before the sprain and .200 after.
Chapman’s season was uneven for other reasons as well. He absolutely crushed the ball, turning in a 93.5 mph average exit velocity, 17.1% barrel rate, and a career-best 56.1% hard-hit rate. However, because Chapman tended to hit the ball hardest when he was hitting it to the big part of the ballpark, he underperformed his xwOBA. Combine that with a 28.4% strikeout rate, and he somehow ranked first among all qualified players in hard-hit rate but 70th in wRC+.
Does that…not…sound…tantalizing as hell?
The guy hits the ball hard. That’s pretty important in today’s game.
Here are a few more quick notes on his quality of contact. Last season, in an up-and-down campaign people have turned their nose up at:
5th in barrels per batted ball
9th in barrels per PA
19th in EV50 (avg. of the hardest 50 percent of balls in play)
14th in total barrels
So you have Luis Urias (83 wRC+ in 52 games in 2023 with an injury of his own) penciled in as your Opening Day third baseman. And then the guy who hit the ball on the screws more often than anyone last year is a third baseman who’s available on the market for what’s likely to be under $100 million guaranteed.
Sometimes it’s just that simple.
Again, there’s age. But heck, Nolan Arenado posted a 7.2 fWAR age-31 season (Chapman will be 31) after a bit of an offensive hiccup in 2020 and 2021. Eugenio Suárez was just very solid in his age-31 season after being even better the year before. Moving across the diamond, and up a tier in hitter, admittedly, Paul Goldschmidt had the best offensive season of a stellar career at age 34.
Chapman’s former Oakland teammate, Marcus Semien, has been awesome in his early 30s.
It can happen.
Like, couldn’t you just see Chapman signing with a quality org that isn’t the Marinerson a deal like the one mentioned above and him playing up to it and then some? Only for us to look back again and think “Shit, that deal wasn’t that bad.”?
He’s a West Coast dude. He’s had success in this division.
Go get the guy and keep climbing towards something special.