Were Blue Jays and Matt Chapman ever serious about return of third baseman?

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Were the Blue Jays ever truly “in” on third baseman Matt Chapman or were they willing to walk away from the Gold Glove third baseman from the moment he hit free agency last November?

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We are certainly left to wonder after the California native agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the San Francisco Giants Friday night for terms more modest than many had projected. Chapman’s protracted free-agency season came to a merciful conclusion with word that the former Oakland Athletics third baseman had agreed to a $54 million US deal to return to the Bay Area.

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Of note, Chapman had turned down a one-year, $20 million US qualifying offer to remain with the Jays, a stipend that could have been a promising starting point to negotiate a long-term deal to remain in Toronto.

Chapman had signed a two-year deal worth $25 million US prior to the 2022 season and immediately brought significant improvement to the Jays infield defence. That prowess at the hot corner was rewarded with a Gold Glove award in 2023, the fourth of the soon to be 31-year-old’s career.

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How the deal with San Francisco – and not with Toronto – came to be is somewhat of a puzzler given the team’s adamant stance that improved defence was a necessity a year ago.

As it stands, it would appear that former Yankees infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who signed a two-year, $15 million US deal as a free agent earlier this winter, will become the closest thing the Jays have to an every day third baseman.

And so the underwhelming off-season orchestrated by general manager Ross Atkins continues. And with it, more questions.


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Were the Jays really interested in bringing Chapman’s exquisite defence back to the Rogers Centre on a multi-year deal? Were his inconsistencies at the plate too much of a burden for a team in need of improvement on offence to make a long-term commitment? Did super agent Scott Boras misread the market and end up getting less for Chapman than many expected?

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Finally — and perhaps of most relevance — did Chapman himself have little interest in returning north off the border, preferring instead to go to a team such as the Giants, which loaded up on star players this off-season?

As effective as he was in Toronto, things weren’t always a smooth ride at Chapman’s second major league stop. While it would be wrong to read too much into one dugout incident involving a player known for his rabid intensity, Chapman had a very public in-game clash with manager John Schneider during a Rogers Centre meeting with the Angels last July.

Broadcast cameras caught Chapman fuming in frustrating to his manager after starter Kevin Gausman pitched to red-hot Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani.

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“Why did we pitch to him?,” Chapman appeared to be saying. “He’s the only (bleeping) guy on the team that can hit?”

Both sides diffused the situation following the game as a competitive boys being competitive boys situation, which is likely the case.

From Chapman’s standpoint, he may not have wanted to seriously entertain offers from the Jays in the first place and the team’s disheartening playoff losses the previous two seasons wouldn’t have helped entice him to look seriously in Toronto’s direction. He also would have bought into the hype from Boras, who wasn’t shy about touting his client as one of the most sought after properties in this year’s free-agent class.

From the Jays perspective, it was never clear how serious they may or may not have been in trying to bring back Chapman. On the one hand, they did make that $20 million qualifying offer, which will get them a compensatory draft pick from the Giants, who have had a bountiful, polar opposite off-season to that of the Jays. The pick will come following the conclusion of the fourth round of next year’s draft.

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On the other, perhaps the organization saw something behind the lacklustre results at the plate to justify anything beyond a short-term, modest deal.

After a sizzling start which earned him the AL player of the month award last April, Chapman reverted to some of the struggles that have typified his big league career, ending the season with a .240 average with 17 homers and 54 RBI. That output was a downgrade from the 27 homer, 76 RBI first season with the Jays.

Chapman, who made his big-league debut with the A’s in 2017, had been linked to the Giants for much of the off-season, but it had been expected he’d land a more expansive contract both in term and cash, with many suggesting he’d top $100 million US. From the Chapman camp, the appeal is that the contract has player opt-outs after the first two seasons, so a big 2024 could make the shorter team arrangement a worthy gamble for the California native.

Meanwhile, Schneider dropped a hint this week that the team was settling into a reality where Kiner-Falefa would be the lead man in a rotation of players seeing action at third. Not that it’s ideal.

“In a perfect world, that’s how you’d kind of draw it up,” Schneider said when asked if he would prefer to have an everyday defender at third. “I think the way we’re built right now, it will be a combination of two or three guys.”

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