Blue Jays trade for Matt Chapman makes Toronto team to beat in AL East

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The already-dangerous Toronto Blue Jays got even better on Wednesday when they acquired former All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman from Oakland

Yesterday, speaking to the media assembled at the Blue Jays spring training home in Dunedin to introduce a marquee offseason acquisition, General Manager Ross Atkins hinted he wasn’t done just yet.

“I think it’s unlikely that we don’t add another position player,” Atkins said, via MLB.com. “We want to make the team better. I think the most obvious way to do that is in our infield and complementing it somehow.”

On Wednesday morning, he came through on that promise. The Blue Jays are acquiring third baseman Matt Chapman from the Oakland Athletics, a deal first reported by Carlos Baerga, adding the former All-Star to a lineup that was already one of the deepest in the league.

The addition of Chapman is only another luxury for the Blue Jays to enjoy. In 2019, while playing half his games at the cavernous RingCentral Coliseum, Chapman still slugged 36 home runs and had a .848 OPS. Even in a down year in 2021, Chapman still managed to hit 27 homers.

His problem, though, was an ever-increasing strikeout rate. Chapman struck out 202 times last season, only the second third baseman in MLB history to strike out at least 200 times. Two years earlier, his swing-and-miss rate was 23.7 percent; last season it was nine points higher at 32.7 percent. When he did make contact, Chapman proved he could still be an elite offensive threat. His barrel rate was fourth-best among third basemen, ahead of Austin Riley, Manny Machado, and Jose Ramirez.

And then there’s his defense. Chapman makes third base look like the Bermuda Triangle, a place where potential base hits disappear forever. He’s twice won the Platinum Glove Award as the best overall defensive player in the American League. Chapman had an 11 defensive WAR in 2021, nearly three wins more than any other third baseman. He had four more outs above average than the next closest player manning the hot corner.

Any pitching staff across the league would be thrilled to have that glove behind them. For the Blue Jays, it’s a necessity. Blue Jays pitchers induced the most ground balls to third base last season with 351. Hyun Jin Ryu led the league with 63; Yusei Kikuchi, the former Mariners left-hander signed to a three-year deal this offseason and introduced to the media on Tuesday, induced the sixth-most.

Matt Chapman only adds to an already-deep lineup

The Blue Jays lineup finished the 2021 season atop the league in home runs, OPS, and behind only the Astros in team batting average. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. nearly won the Triple Crown in his breakout season. Both Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez drove in more than 100 runs. George Springer missed more than half the team’s games with a litany of injuries but still hit 22 home runs. They’re all back and ready to make another run at the postseason. Chapman, removed from the pitcher-friendly confines of Oakland, only makes them more dangerous.

Chapman had a bad offensive season in 2021. But the Blue Jays only have to look back one offseason to see how that’s not an impediment to future success. When Marcus Semien joined the team last year, the former Athletics shortstop was coming off a 2020 season that saw his OPS decline more than 200 points from 2019. Semien, switching to second base, rebounded with the best offensive numbers of his career and led all position players in WAR.

In December 2014, the Blue Jays swung a deal for another Athletics third baseman. Josh Donaldson had never hit 30 home runs or driven in 100 runs while in Oakland. After joining the Blue Jays, he had 41 homers, drove in 123, and walked away with the AL MVP Award.

Atkins and the rest of the Blue Jays management probably aren’t expecting that kind of production from their newest acquisition. But they are getting a star, on both sides of the diamond, to add to a lineup already filled with stars. Look out, American League.

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