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.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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2 months ago

At this rate, Snell is going to sign a contract that I’d be comfortable with!

2 months ago
Reply to  mikejunt

Snell and Montgomery will still do fine. With Boras’ facility, training and medical staffs they can stay reasonably sharp. and the more time they miss upfront, the more bullets they have remaining come playoff time.

Those years where Clemens took his extended spring break, when did he actually report for duty?

2 months ago
Reply to  Richie

The key word is “reasonably,” meaning they are still likely to underperform to a degree in April, which is not all worth missing part of Spring Training no matter how fresh they may then be in October.

2 months ago
Reply to  Richie

Let me ask you this:

Do you think Snell is going to end up getting a deal better than the one he reportedly turned down from the Yankees? (6/150)?

I do not.

2 months ago
Reply to  mikejunt

Chapman certainly isn’t doing better than what he turned down in Toronto.

2 months ago
Reply to  Richie

That was Clemens. Neither Snell nor Montgomery can match reputations with Clemens.

Boras “invented” pillow contract, now he’s refined them.
But if the Jays really offered 6/20…

2 months ago
Reply to  fjtorres

Obviously I meant 6×20.
Just in case…

Jason Bmember
2 months ago
Reply to  fjtorres

As a Jays fan, I can be sad at having a bunch of spare parts at 3B this year rather than Chapman, yet also a tad relieved they didn’t sign Chapman to 6/120. If they had got him for the Giants’ contract I would have gladly taken that.

2 months ago
Reply to  Jason B

They might have dodged a buller.
Bear in mind the report of the six year deal was early in the year. They might not have gone that long in november.