Archive for Blue Jays

Giants Deal Puts Matt Chapman in a Corner

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Less than a week after Cody Bellinger signed a three-year deal that allows him to opt out after each of the first two seasons, Matt Chapman has done the same. The 30-year-old third baseman, who spent the past two seasons with the Blue Jays, has agreed to a three-year, $54 million deal with the Giants, with a mutual option for a fourth year — a deal that looks significantly less favorable than that of Bellinger.

Chapman placed seventh on our Top 50 Free Agents list in November, and like Bellinger (who was third on the list) sought and seemed likely to land a larger contract, particularly given the track record of their mutual agent, Scott Boras. That said, Chapman hit free agency after an uneven season, with his overall numbers (.240/.330/.424 for a 110 wRC+ with 3.5 WAR) representing a slight falloff from his 2022 performance (.229/.330/.433, 118 wRC+, 4.2 WAR). A closer look shows that last year Chapman had just two productive months and four bad ones, as well as difficulties hitting with runners in scoring position.

I’ll explore those details below, but the overarching impression I get from this deal — far more so than from Bellinger’s contract, in fact — is that Chapman and Boras overestimated how robust the market for his services would be and had to settle for much less. According to TSN Sports’ Scott Mitchell, the third baseman declined a six-year, $120 million extension offer from the Blue Jays at some point within the past year. His new contract falls short of that average annual value, even though it is half the length.

As initially reported, Chapman is guaranteed $20 million for 2024, $18 million for ’25, and $16 million for ’26, but the breakdown is more complicated. He’ll receive a $2 million signing bonus and a $16 million salary for 2024, with a $17 million player option and $2 million buyout for ’25, an $18 million player option and $3 million buyout for ’26, and then a $20 million mutual option and $1 million buyout for ’27. So if this winds up being a one-year deal, he’ll make $20 million ($2 million signing bonus, plus $16 million salary, plus $2 million buyout); for the two-year deal, it’s $38 million (the initial bonus, salaries of $16 million and $17 million, and a $3 million buyout); and for the three-year deal, it’s $54 million (bonus, salaries of $16 million, $17 million, and $18 million, $1 million buyout). If the mutual option is picked up — which is certainly no guarantee, considering he’ll be entering his age-34 season — the total value of the four-year deal will be $73 million (that $54 million, minus the $1 million buyout, plus $20 million). Got all that?

Chapman’s $18 million AAV is 25% below Ben Clemens’ estimate from our Top 50 list. Ben figured that Chapman would get $24 million per year (five years, $120 million), while our median crowdsource estimate came in at a $20 million AAV (four years, $80 million). By comparison, Bellinger’s $26.7 million AAV actually topped the estimates of $25 million per year by Clemens and $24 million per year by our crowd. What’s more, where Bellinger’s deal appeared to be a slight overpay relative to Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS-projected contract of three years and $70 million, Chapman’s deal falls short of the three-year, $79 million contract projected by the ZiPS model:

ZiPS Projection – Matt Chapman
2024 .241 .333 .438 502 73 121 27 3 22 65 65 160 3 112 8 3.8
2025 .236 .329 .424 474 68 112 25 2 20 59 61 152 2 107 6 3.2
2026 .232 .324 .409 440 60 102 23 2 17 52 56 143 2 102 5 2.6

For both deals, Dan also provided contract valuations with the opt-outs priced in: three years and $58 million for Bellinger, and three years and $66 million for Chapman. The former exceeded the model’s estimate by about 38%, but the latter fell short by about 18%. That’s quite a haircut, particularly when one considers the questions of sustainability of Bellinger’s performance given his dreadful 2021–22 stretch and last year’s batted ball stats, which reflected a more contact-based two-strike approach. By comparison, for Chapman — who is more than two years older, which is already reflected in ZiPS — the concerns are more garden variety ones about season-to-season variance and aging.

Traditional numbers amplified the perception that Chapman’s decline from 2022 to ’23 was steeper than the advanced stats suggest; his 17 home runs and 54 RBIs last season were a considerable dip from his 27 home runs and 76 RBIs the year before. His career-low full-season RBIs total was in large part the product of a .215/.320/.299 (77 wRC+) performance with runners in scoring position. It was an anomalous showing — he produced a 122 wC+ in 170 PA with runners in scoring position in 2022, and owned a 128 wRC+ in that capacity for the first six years of his career — but it was poorly timed.

Situational hitting aside, Chapman’s monthly splits further shed light on why his season may have been viewed as worse than it actually was:

Matt Chapman 2023 Splits
Mar/Apr 114 5 .384 .465 .687 216
May 121 2 .202 .273 .312 63
June 101 3 .200 .277 .356 75
July 102 4 .247 .402 .506 154
August 82 1 .197 .256 .276 49
Sept/Oct 61 2 .167 .262 .370 75
Through August 12 485 15 .255 .346 .449 121
After August 12 96 2 .163 .250 .302 54

Chapman’s strong start was impossible to sustain — he had a 32.9% barrel rate over the first month of the season — but his production didn’t regress so much as it cratered. He posted a .205/.298/.361 (84 wRC+) line after April. The split on the bottom two lines illustrates Chapman’s numbers before and after spraining his right middle finger in a weight room mishap; he initially missed three games after suffering the injury, then went just 5-for-32 with a 40% strikeout rate in nine games before landing on the injured list. He missed 15 games and continued to be unproductive in the 15 games he played between his return and the end of the regular season, though he barreled the ball at a 16.2% clip, with a 51.4% hard-hit rate in that final stretch.

Chapman’s strikeout rate crept up one point from 2022, to 28.4%, but when he made contact, he absolutely pasted the ball. He produced average exit velocities of 92.5 mph or higher and hard-hit rates of at least 51.4% or higher in every month except August (90.0 mph and 42.6%, respectively), while his barrel rates were 10.5% or higher in every month except May (9.2%). His full-season 93.4 mph average exit velocity and 17.1% barrel rate both placed in the 98th percentile, while his 56.4% hard-hit rate trailed only that of Aaron Judge among all hitters. He was unlucky in the power department, in that he fell 3.7 home runs short of his expected total based upon the batted ball specs of his biggest flies, a gap that ranked eighth in the majors. He fell 33 points short of his .457 expected slugging percentage.

Chapman did play very good defense, with 12 DRS, 4.5 UZR, and 3 RAA. Those numbers all represented improvements on his 2022 metrics, even in about 130 fewer innings. That performance didn’t escape recognition, as he took home his fourth Gold Glove.

In all, it was a good-not-great season, one with an arc that didn’t particularly help Chapman’s cause. It was reported back in May that he and the team were both interested in an extension, though it’s not clear when the Blue Jays offered him the $120 million deal. Chapman turned down Toronto’s $20.325 million qualifying offer as well, but in mid-November, the team was still reportedly “making a big push” to keep him.

Yet the Blue Jays, who at one point thought they had landed Shohei Ohtani, and who were viewed as being the favorites to sign Bellinger, instead chose to make a series of smaller moves: They re-signed Kevin Kiermaier to a one-year deal in late December, signed Isiah Kiner-Falefa to a two-year deal soon afterward, and added Justin Turner on a one-year deal in late January. With Kiner-Falefa, Turner, Santiago Espinal, and Cavan Biggio all in the fold, the Blue Jays figured they had third base covered, even if that quartet doesn’t make up for the production that Chapman would have provided. Our Depth Charts projects the Blue Jays to finish with 2.1 WAR at third base; Chapman is projected for 3.3 WAR by Depth Charts. In addition to the roster crunch, Chapman’s salary, even at a discount, was more than what the team was comfortable paying after pivoting to those other players. The Blue Jays’ luxury tax payroll is estimated to be just under $12 million above the first Competitive Balance Tax threshold ($237 million), and they will be paying the tax for a second straight season.

With half a dozen teams — the Angels, Braves, Cardinals, Guardians, Padres, Red Sox — already committing at least $20 million to their third basemen on deals that extend through at least 2026, plus the Dodgers and Yankees prioritizing spending elsewhere and the Mets looking to cut expenses, Chapman only had a limited number of options for landing spots. The Mariners, Cubs, and Giants were the only teams other than the Blue Jays that were publicly connected to him.

This is the latest move for the Giants in a winter that also included a six-year, $113 million deal for center fielder Jung Hoo Lee , four years and $44 million for righty Jordan Hicks, three years and $42 million for DH/outfielder Jorge Soler, and two years and $8.25 million for catcher Tom Murphy. The signing of Chapman bumps J.D. Davis — his college teammate at Cal State Fullerton, incidentally — out of the lineup and provides San Francisco a solid upgrade, particularly in the field, where he’ll be playing behind a staff with three projected starters (Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, and Hicks) who last year had groundball rates above 57%.

Davis hit .248/.325/.413 (104 wRC+) while playing 116 games at third base (105 of them starts), 15 at first base, and 14 at DH. Long saddled with a reputation as a below-average defender, he put in considerable work to improve, and in a career-high 915.2 innings at the hot corner produced a mixed bag of metrics (-11 DRS , 0.8 UZR, 4 RAA). With lefty-hitting LaMonte Wade and righty Wilmer Flores the most likely combination at first base and Soler taking the bulk of the playing time at DH, Davis doesn’t have a clear path to playing time and could be a trade candidate. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi acknowledged the team’s surplus of infielders, telling reporters, “We’ll explore different things. It’s certainly possible that a move or two happens before the end of camp.’’

Perhaps more notably, Zaidi refused to rule out another free agent addition and indicated that the team could go over the $237 million CBT threshold. (RosterResource places their payroll at $230.5 million for tax purposes.) With the team already waiting for Cobb and Robbie Ray to return from surgeries at some point during the season, and having just lost Tristan Beck to aneurysm surgery, sources told the San Francisco Chronicle that the Giants remain in the mix for Blake Snell, another Boras client.

As for Chapman, here’s his ZiPS percentile breakdown:

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Matt Chapman
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 39 34 .295 .379 .553 151 6.4
90% 36 31 .280 .367 .532 143 6.0
80% 33 28 .269 .356 .493 132 5.2
70% 31 26 .258 .345 .474 123 4.6
60% 29 24 .249 .339 .455 117 4.2
50% 27 22 .241 .333 .438 112 3.8
40% 26 21 .235 .325 .422 105 3.3
30% 24 19 .226 .318 .405 99 2.9
20% 22 18 .216 .307 .387 93 2.5
10% 19 15 .203 .289 .361 81 1.6
5% 17 13 .188 .279 .335 72 1.0

It’s not hard to envision Chapman putting in a strong enough season to opt out, but it is worth remembering that Oracle Park particularly tends to suppress right-handed power, which is Chapman’s calling card on offense. All of which is to say that next winter, he could suffer from a similar perception problem if his counting stats don’t rebound, and so to these eyes, he’s carrying a greater share of the risk than he otherwise might have. However much this gets spun as a win-win deal like that of Bellinger, this looks like a case where Boras and his client came up short.

Sunday Notes: Daulton Varsho Goes Pull-Side, Thinks Low and Hard

Daulton Varsho’s last two seasons were directionally different than his first two seasons.The left-handed-hitting outfielder put up a pedestrian 37.8% pull rate in 2020-2021, and in 2022-2023 that number climbed to a lofty 52.6%. Apprised of the marked jump by colleague Davy Andrews prior to my recent visit to Toronto Blue Jays camp, I asked Varsho if it was spurred by a purposeful change of approach. He claimed that it wasn’t.

“I think it’s just how teams are pitching me,” said Varsho, whose pull rate in the two-year span was the highest among qualified hitters. “You don’t want to force the ball to any certain field — it has to sort of naturally happen — and I’ve been getting pounded in. You also have to figure out the changeup away and righties throwing sliders in. You don’t really want to force those to left-center or left field, because they end up being fly outs.”

Davy had also informed me that Varsho’s pull-side results have been far better than his opposite-field results, which came as anything but news to the 27-year-old Marshfield, Wisconsin native. My mentioning it elicited a matter-of-fact response.

“That’s where success happens,” said Varsho. “It’s where my swing is the most successful, and where I can do the most damage.”

It’s no secret that catching pitches out front and driving them in the air goes a long way toward producing power numbers, and not only has Varsho gone yard 47 times over the past two campaigns, just one of the blasts was to the opposite field. My asking if he’s made a concerted effort to lift the ball led to the following exchange: Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 2132: Season Preview Series: Blue Jays and Reds

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley talk to FanGraphs writer Ben Clemens about the site’s ongoing efforts to model team depth and factor it into projections, then preview the 2024 Toronto Blue Jays (30:46) with The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath, and the 2024 Cincinnati Reds (1:16:31) with The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans.

Audio intro: Gabriel-Ernest, “Effectively Wild Theme
Audio interstitial 1: Cory Brent, “Effectively Wild Theme
Audio interstitial 2: Xavier LeBlanc, “Effectively Wild Theme
Audio outro: MulderBatFlip, “Effectively Wild Theme

Link to Other Ben’s blog about depth
Link to Ben’s depth tables
Link to bullpen chaining explainer
Link to projection limitations
Link to Ben on odds calibration
Link to Ben on odds calibration 2
Link to “model talk” pods
Link to Jays offseason tracker
Link to Jays depth chart
Link to Stark on Ohtani’s flight
Link to Sheehan on Rogers Centre
Link to Kaitlyn on Varsho
Link to Statcast park factors
Link to OF OAA leaderboard
Link to OF DRS leaderboard
Link to Kaitlyn on Berríos
Link to 2019 FG cutter post
Link to cutter tweet
Link to Ben on new pitches
Link to Kaitlyn’s fan survey
Link to Mattingly beard
Link to Kaitlyn’s Athletic archive
Link to Reds offseason tracker
Link to Reds depth chart
Link to FG payrolls leaderboard
Link to 2023 Senzel article
Link to team SP projections
Link to team RP projections
Link to story about Reds bunting
Link to 2023 bunt hit leaders
Link to BP on Friedl
Link to bunting Stat Blast
Link to story about bench coaches
Link to Reds bench coach story
Link to conservation of matter
Link to C. Trent’s Athletic archive

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The Weakest Positions on American League Contenders, 2024 Edition

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Even with an extra day in February this year, Matt Chapman remains unsigned, his free agency having lingered past the start of exhibition season. Admittedly, the soon-to-be-31-year-old third baseman is coming off of an uneven season marked by a late slump related to a finger injury, but he’s been reliably productive throughout his seven-year career, with good-to-great defense bolstering his value at the plate. Meanwhile, his former (?) team, the Blue Jays — who reportedly offered him a nine-figure extension before he hit free agency — have cobbled together an uninspiring solution at third base.

Chapman isn’t the only remaining free agent who could provide a significant upgrade, but he’s by far the best position player remaining on the shelves, and the combination of his absence and the Blue Jays’ needs stands out as I turn to the American League edition of my roundup of the most glaring holes on contending teams (the National League edition is here). For this exercise, I’ve highlighted the spots that per our projections — which combine ZiPS and Steamer as well as playing time estimates from RosterResource — fall below a combined 2.0 WAR on teams whose Playoff Odds sit at or above 25%.

Why 2.0 WAR? That’s the rough equivalent of average play across a full season, but because of the general tendency to overproject playing time and keep even the weakest teams with positive WARs at each position (in reality over 10% of them will finish in the red), our position player Depth Chart values at the team level are inflated by about 20%. That is, instead of having a total of 1,000 WAR projected across the 30 teams, and 57% of that (570 WAR) allocated to position players, our Depth Chart values currently add up to about 682 WAR. Thus, I am discounting the team values that you see on the Depth Chart pages by 20%, and focusing on the lowest-ranked contenders among those whose adjusted values fall below that 2.0 WAR threshold. The individual WAR values cited will remain as they are on the Depth Chart pages, however, and it’s worth noting that many of the players here — particularly youngsters with shorter track records, including some from our Top 100 Prospects list — don’t project particularly well but still have considerable upside. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Synced Up and Simplified, Mick Abel is Watching in a New Way

In terms of rankings and projection, Mick Abel is much the same pitcher he was 24 months ago. When the now-22-year-old right-hander was featured in February 2022 during our annual Prospect Week, he was No. 1 in the Philadelphia Phillies system and No. 20 on our Top 100. Fast forward to the present, and he is No. 2 in the Philadelphia Phillies system and No. 22 on our Top 100. As Eric Longenhagen explained in his recent writeup, “Abel didn’t have an especially good 2023… [but] still has most all of the ingredients needed to be an impact starter, he just isn’t totally baked yet.”

How has the 2019 first-rounder out of Beaverton, Oregon’s Jesuit High School matured the most since our conversation two years ago? I asked him that question at Philadelphia’s spring training facility in Clearwater, Florida on Friday.

“I’d say it’s the separation of over-the-rubber and over-the-plate mentality, knowing how to distinguish between the two,” replied Abel, who had a 27.5% strikeout rate but also a 13.5% walk rate in 108-and-two-third innings with Double-A Reading last year. “Whether it’s in the bullpen or on the game-mound, knowing when and how to make adjustments without getting too deep in my head about it.

“Staying more direct and knowing that if I get too long with my arm action in back I’m going to be a little later to the plate,“ Abel said when asked to elaborate on the actual mechanics. “I want to make sure that everything is on time going down the hill.” Read the rest of this entry »

Daniel Vogelbach Deal Continues Toronto’s Tepid Offseason

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays signed a lefty-swinging first baseman/designated hitter whose name begins with a V and an O, but it wasn’t Joey Votto. As position players report to camps, the longtime Red and all-time leader in games played by a Canadian-born major leaguer remains a free agent. Instead, the Blue Jays added Daniel Vogelbach on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. At his best, the well-traveled 31-year-old can help the Blue Jays, but in context, his limitations provide yet another reminder of the team’s underwhelming offseason.

Vogelbach’s deal calls for him to make $2 million if he’s in the majors, according to the New York Post’s Jon Heyman. This is actually his second go-round with the Blue Jays, but you’re forgiven if you need your memory jogged. He spent 10 days with the team during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, between being purchased from the Mariners and lost on waivers to the Brewers; within that span, he played two games, going 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts. After spending all of 2021 with the Brewers, he split ’22 between the Pirates and Mets, with an effective stretch-run stint for the latter, and then spent last year in Queens as well.

Despite a productive opening month to his 2023 season, Vogelbach hit just .213/.326/.348 (92 wRC+) through the end of June, a span that included an eight-day benching for the purposes of a mental break. He was much better from July onward, batting .258/.355/.475 (131 wRC+) with eight homers in 138 plate appearances, but even so, he was an afterthought in September. He made just five starts that month, none in the Mets’ final 16 games, with just three of his 24 plate appearances for September coming in that span. Unsurprisingly, he was nontendered in November.

Even in a down season, Vogelbach again showed an excellent batting eye, chasing just 24.1% of pitches outside the strike zone and walking 13.2% of the time; that said, his strikeout rate crept to 25.4%, his highest since 2019. He didn’t get enough playing time to qualify for Statcast’s percentile cutoffs, but his 91.7 mph average exit velo and 50% hard-hit rate would have landed at the 86th and 93rd percentiles, respectively.

Vogelbach is a player with obvious limitations. He didn’t play a single game in the field during his Mets tenure, had just five for the Pirates before being dealt in July 2022, and owns DH-caliber metrics at first base for his seven-year career (1,059.2 innings, -8 RAA, -15 DRS). He went 0-for-15 with a walk and eight strikeouts against lefties in 2023, and has been utterly helpless against them for his career (.129/.248/.215, 35 wRC+ in 323 PA). He’s never even attempted a stolen base in the majors, a wise choice given his 2nd-percentile sprint speed. That’s not the easiest player to fit onto a roster, and if Vogelbach does stick with the Blue Jays, he’s not likely to get a ton of playing time unless things go wrong elsewhere. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the incumbent first baseman, and Toronto signed the righty-swinging Justin Turner to a one-year, $13 million deal to serve as its primary DH while spotting all around the infield, as he did last year with the Red Sox. Turner hit for just a 105 wRC+ against righties (.273/.335/.430 in 462 PA) in 2023, but that may have been an aberration given his 132 wRC+ against them over the previous three seasons. He doesn’t need a platoon partner.

Given the size of the role in question, it’s not tremendously hard to understand why the Blue Jays signed Vogelbach instead of the 40-year-old Votto, who became a free agent after 17 seasons with the Reds and who scuffled in 2023. Coming off of August 2022 surgery to repair tears in his left rotator cuff and biceps, Votto didn’t make his season debut until June 19, and while he homered off Austin Gomber in his second plate appearance, he hit just .202/.314/.433 (98 wRC+) with 14 homers in 208 PA. Save for his slugging percentage and barrel rate, neither that slash line nor his underlying Statcast numbers were as good as those of Vogelbach.

Joey Votto vs. Daniel Vogelbach, 2023
Player Events EV Barrel% HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
Joey Votto 146 89.3 11.0% 39.7% .202 .190 .433 .376 .326 .304
Daniel Vogelbach 194 91.7 9.3% 49.5% .233 .225 .404 .397 .327 .323

The Blue Jays showed interest in Votto early in the offseason, with general manager Ross Atkins saying, “Incredible reputation, really dynamic personality, really bright (person) that I know our team would embrace… But I think that’s the case for probably 15 teams.” Based on Votto’s background, he added a potential for “massive impact in the community if he were to be a Toronto Blue Jay.”

Despite the obvious appeal, nothing ever materialized, and in the wake of the Turner signing, we can infer that the Blue Jays may not have been willing to offer Votto — whose 2022 production was underwhelming amid his shoulder woes — enough playing time. To date, it doesn’t appear that any team has offered the right mix of opportunity and money. On January 11, USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reported that three teams were interested in Votto, and in his Sunday notebook a few days later mentioned the Blue Jays and Brewers as potential fits. The last report of a team’s interest in him came on January 24, when Heyman connected Votto to the Angels. That same day, Reds GM Nick Krall told season ticket holders he had no plans to bring back the franchise icon. Since those flickers of interest, the Blue Jays added Turner and the Brewers signed Rhys Hoskins. Meanwhile, the future Hall of Fame first baseman has popped up at the NHL All-Star Game in the company of Gritty and other mascots and quoted Dylan Thomas on Instagram, but otherwise, he’s been quiet on social media.

The Blue Jays/Votto connection has always been more speculative than substantial, but, like the Vogelbach signing, it’s at least interesting enough to underscore just how unremarkable Toronto’s offseason has been. Coming off an 89-win season in which it claimed the third AL Wild Card spot but made a quick two-and-through exit, the team hasn’t made anything that could be characterized as an impact move, even after showing signs of grand ambitions.

For a brief time, it appeared that the Blue Jays had won the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, but alas that rumor proved untrue. With the possible exception of signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto, with whom they met before he chose the Dodgers as well, nothing else they could have done would have been as impactful. But they at least seemed to be thinking big by showing enough interest in Cody Bellinger to be considered co-favorites (along with the Cubs) to sign him as Christmas approached, and he remains a free agent as of this writing. Instead, in late December, the Blue Jays re-signed Kevin Kiermaier — a spectacular fielder but a league-average hitter who turns 34 in April — to a one-year, $10.5 million deal, presumably to be their regular center fielder between Daulton Varsho in left and George Springer in right.

And then there’s Toronto’s approach to its third base situation. Matt Chapman hit free agency after an uneven season that included a .255/.346/.449 (121 wRC+) line through August 12, when he sprained his right middle finger in a weight room mishap, and a .163/.250/.302 (54 wRC+) line the rest of the way; he initially missed three games after suffering the injury, then 15 more after trying to play through it. The Blue Jays, who reportedly offered Chapman an extension north of $100 million over four or five years before he reached free agency, extended him a $20.325 million qualifying offer, which he declined. Like Bellinger, he remains a free agent while the Blue Jays have moved on. Just after inking Kiermaier, they signed light-hitting Isiah Kiner-Falefa to a two-year, $15 million deal, then added Turner. Though he makes more sense fitting into the utility slot vacated by Whit Merrifield, who recently signed with the Phillies, Kiner-Falefa is currently projected to receive the most plate appearances of any Toronto player at third base (231), with Turner, Santiago Espinal, Cavan Biggio, and Eduardo Escobar also in the mix. The 35-year-old Escobar, who began last season as Vogelbach’s teammate on the Mets before being traded to the Angels, signed a minor league deal with a nonroster invitation last week; he’s looking to rebound from a dismal .226/.269/.344 (66 wRC+) performance in 309 PA.

Between Kiermaier, Kiner-Falefa, and Turner, that’s a not-so-grand total of $38.5 million committed to free agent position players this winter, short of enough money to cover the present-day value of one season of Ohtani. Their other major league deal was for Cuban righthander Yariel Rodriguez — who spent 2020–22 with NPB’s Chunichi Dragons, mainly as a reliever — whom they signed to a five-year, $32 million contract. After pitching for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic last year, Rodriguez sat out the regular season while establishing residency in the Dominican Republic so he could become a major league free agent. The Blue Jays intend to build him up as a starter, but he might wind up in Triple-A or in a multi-inning bullpen role as he begins his major league career. Meanwhile, the team will roll with a starting five of Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, Chris Bassitt, Yusei Kikuchi, and Alek Manoah, the last of those coming off a dreadful season after a top-three finish in the AL Cy Young voting in 2022. Lefty Ricky Tiedemann, no. 28 on our new Top 100 Prospects List, could help later in the year, but has just 36 innings above A-ball to his name, while righty Bowden Francis is being stretched out to provide more immediate depth. While they’ve been “quietly monitoring” the ongoing Blake Snell market, per Nightengale, the Blue Jays have never appeared likely to spend big on starting pitching this winter; instead, they have focused on improving their lineup.

Last week, Atkins said, “At this point, additions that would be of significance would mean some level of subtraction,” which didn’t sound like he was leaving the light on for either Bellinger or Chapman. If this is more or less the Blue Jays’ roster, according to Roster Resource, their payroll sits at $235.7 million in terms of actual salaries, up from $214.5 million last year, and $248.7 million for Competitive Balance Tax purposes, a hair ahead of last year’s $246.1 million and somewhere between the first and second tax thresholds ($237 million and $257 million, respectively). That’s the game’s sixth- or seventh-highest payroll, depending on which figure you’re using to rank them, so it’s not as though the Blue Jays are going cheap.

Nor do they project to be bad. We have them forecast for 83.5 wins, fourth in the AL East but part of a tight group with the Yankees, Rays, and Orioles; only 4.6 projected wins separates Toronto from New York, the projected first-place finisher. The thing is, the Blue Jays are right at the point where adding extra wins could increase their odds above their 14.2% chance at winning the division title and 47.7% chance to make the playoffs. While their AL East competition has added marquee players like Juan Soto and Corbin Burnes, the end result of the Blue Jays’ grand offseason just feels like a series of half measures.

Sunday Notes: Top Red Sox Prospect Roman Anthony Adjusted To Power Up

Roman Anthony arguably has the highest upside in the Boston Red Sox system. Three months shy of his 20th birthday, the left-handed-hitting outfielder is No. 14 on our recently-released Top 100, and in the words of Eric Longenhagen, he “has the offensive foundation (plate discipline and contact) to be a top five prospect if he can more readily get to his power in games.”

Getting to more of his in-game power was an organizationally-driven goal throughout a first full professional season that saw the 2022 second-rounder begin in Low-A Salem and finish in Double-A Portland. Progress was made. Of the 14 home runs Anthony swatted over 491 plate appearances, all but one came from mid-June onward. Learning to lift was the key and, according to the youngster that came not from an overhaul of his mechanics, but rather from subtle adjustments.

“At the beginning of the year, I was pulling it on the ground a little more than I would like to,” acknowledged Anthony, who was 200-plus plate appearances into the season when he went yard for a second time. “But I worked with my hitting coaches and eventually it clicked. It was really just minor tweaks. It’s not as though I was redoing my swing, or anything like that. I still have pretty much the same swing I’ve always had.”

According to Red Sox farm director Brian Abraham, Anthony’s adjustments were crafted primarily in a batting cage with simple, yet creative, drill work. Read the rest of this entry »

Blue Jays Bet $13 Million That Justin Turner’s Still Got It

Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Turner, the longtime Dodgers stalwart and kind of guy who makes you wonder when “professional hitter” stopped being a baseball idiom in common usage, has a new gig. After one season in Boston — moderately successful for him, less so for his team — Turner is moving west to Toronto, where he’ll make $13 million this season, with the chance to earn an additional $1.5 million in bonuses and incentives.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you probably saw the news that Turner would be sharing an infield (and/or a DH spot) with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and thought, “Wait, didn’t Turner come up with the Orioles around the same time Guerrero père was winding down his career there?” And sure enough, he did. But Turner isn’t just so old he played with his new teammate’s dad. He’s so old he played four years of college, got drafted, spent three seasons in the minors, played parts of two seasons in the majors with the Orioles, and got traded away before his new teammate’s dad even got there.

Turner just turned 39, which is still 39 years old in Canada after you account for the exchange rate. I checked. That’s relatively young for someone who spent their young adulthood working on a humanities PhD while all their friends were starting families and getting established professionally. (You’ve still got your whole life ahead of you! I believe in you!) But it’s old for a ballplayer. Particularly a ballplayer on a contract that indicates he’s meant to be a key contributor on a playoff team. Read the rest of this entry »

Can Matt Chapman Find Glove in a Turfless Place?

Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Chapman is the second-highest-ranked position player left on the free agent market, and few players have a more evocative reputation: Four Gold Gloves in five full major league seasons, plus various newfangled defensive awards like a Platinum Glove and the Wilson Overall Defensive Player of the Year. Chapman is like a movie that won the Oscar and the Palme d’Or, and you look at the DVD cover and see it also won Best Picture at the Inland Empire Film Critics Association Awards. Lots of people think he’s good.

Even if Chapman weren’t a great defender, he’d be a valuable free agent. He’s reliable: Since his first full year in the majors, 2018, he’s never missed more than 23 games in a season. He has a career wRC+ of 118, and he’s averaged 29 home runs per 162 games. Jeimer Candelario, who is seven months younger than Chapman and has had only one season as good as Chapman’s worst full campaign in the majors, just got $45 million over three years. Ben Clemens predicted that Chapman’s free agent contract would be $24 million a year over five years; the median crowdsource estimate was 4 years at $20 million per. I tend to trust Ben’s judgment more than that of the crowd, wise as the crowd may be.

But Chapman is, nevertheless, an interesting case: a high-strikeout hitter who doesn’t put up huge power numbers, and a glove-first player at a bat-first position. That’s a precarious profile when considering a player for a long-term contract into his mid-30s. Read the rest of this entry »

JAWS and the 2024 Hall of Fame Ballot: José Reyes

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2024 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Content warning: This piece contains details about alleged domestic violence. The content may be difficult to read and emotionally upsetting.

2024 BBWAA Candidate: José Reyes
José Reyes SS 37.5 29.3 33.4 2,138 145 517 .283/.334/.427 103
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

During the Mets’ run of relevance in the mid-2000s, José Reyes looked like a superstar in the making. Through 2008, his age-25 season, the electrifying and charismatic shortstop had already led the National League in triples and steals three times apiece while collecting at least 190 hits for four straight seasons. Before that run, however, he had also demonstrated a propensity for leg injuries that cost him significant time. Those injuries eventually soured the increasingly cost-conscious Mets ownership on him despite his All-Star level play, and to be fair, Reyes was never really the same after departing New York via free agency following the 2011 season. By the time he returned five years later, he was not only a considerably diminished player but something of a pariah, having been suspended for violating the league’s new domestic violence policy and then released by the Rockies. Read the rest of this entry »