Thursday, January 20, 2022

MLB rumors: Yankees have considered A’s third baseman Matt Chapman at shortstop

Whenever the owners’ lockout ends, the New York Yankees figure to be among the most active MLB teams, with shortstop their single greatest need. Top free agents Javier Báez, Corey Seager, and Marcus Semien have already signed, leaving Carlos Correa and Trevor Story the best available. Trade candidates include Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Paul DeJong.

One outside the box shortstop candidate the Yankees have considered: Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman. During a recent appearance on the Michael Kay Show on 98.7 ESPN (audio link), ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned the Yankees have internally discussed acquiring Chapman and moving him to short. Here’s what Olney said:

“If I were to guess, I think they’ll end up with one of the Oakland guys. Matt Chapman, for example, maybe you acquire him to be the one-year shortstop. I know he’s a third baseman, he’s exceptional, but if you added Matt Chapman, you would be improving your defense on the left side of the infield. And I know the Yankees have talked a little bit about this internally. Look, can Matt Chapman play shortstop? I think they wind up with one of those guys. Maybe it’s (Matt) Olson and then they hold back and they pay Aaron Judge.”

Judge is one year away from free agency and a long-term deal for Correa or Story would cut into New York’s ability to retain Judge, in theory. Chapman has two years of arbitration-eligibility remaining and is projected to earn $10 million or so in 2022. Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, the Yankees’ top two shortstop prospects, should arrive by time Chapman becomes a free agent.

Chapman, 29 in April, is a Platinum Glove defender at third base. He has played only 10 career innings at shortstop at the MLB level, though he played the position in college and some in the minors, so it wouldn’t be an entirely new experience. Given his defensive skills, I suspect Chapman would have little trouble at short. He might not be an elite defender there, but I bet he’d play it well.

Offensively, Chapman has steadily declined since hitting .278/.357/.508 and finishing seventh in the AL MVP voting in 2018, his first full MLB season. He slipped down to .210/.314/.403 in 2021 and his OPS+ has gone from 137 in 2018 to 127 in 2019 to 120 in 2020 to 100 in 2021. Chapman’s exit velocity and swing and miss rates are trending in the wrong directions as well.

2018

8.8%

93.1 mph

47.6%

2019

9.2%

92.7 mph

47.8%

2020

15.2%

93.6 mph

51.7%

2021

13.2%

89.7 mph

41.7%

MLB average

11.3%

88.8 mph

38.5%

Chapman’s defense at third base is so outstanding that, even if he settled in as a league average hitter moving forward, he would still be a comfortably above-average player. The most pressing questions for the Yankees would be a) why is his bat going backward and how do you reverse that trend, and b) just how good will his defense be at short if he moves there?

Teams kick around creative ideas all the time — what else are they supposed to do during the lockout? — and Chapman at short qualifies as creative. It’s important to note Olney says the Yankees only discussed this internally. They have not talked to the A’s about Chapman as far as we know. (Teams can discuss trades during the lockout, but they can’t complete them if they involve the 40-man roster.)

The A’s were quiet prior to the lockout, though they are expected to cut payroll next season, making Chapman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, and Matt Olson obvious trade candidates. Several contenders need a third baseman and could make a serious push for Chapman, including the Blue Jays and Phillies.

There is no indication the lockout is nearing an end. In fact, MLB and the MLBPA have yet to discuss core economic matters. That is expected to happen later this month.

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