Major League Baseball's free-agent period is open for business, and that can mean just one thing: it's time to partake in rampant speculation until deals start getting signed. As such, CBS Sports will be spending the next few weeks attempting to identify the market for several of the winter's top free agents.
Today's focus is on third baseman Matt Chapman, a career .240/.329/.461 (117 OPS+) hitter with 162-game averages of 29 home runs, 80 RBI, and 5.8 Wins Above Replacement. CBS Sports recently ranked Chapman as the fourth best free agent available this offseason. Here's what we wrote at the time:
The reprise of this free agent class is "yes but." It applies to Shohei Ohtani's UCL, Blake Snell's command, Cody Bellinger's ball-tracking data, and so on. In Chapman's case, it applies to his hit tool. He's a brilliant defensive third baseman with elite strength and plate discipline. He's also extremely ineffectual against elevated pitches, resulting in a well-below-average in-zone contact rate. That, plus Chapman's tendency to hit pop-ups, explains why he's so streaky. (To wit, his April OPS this season was nearly higher than the sum of his May and June OPS.) The marketplace is largely without good infielders, so someone will take the plunge and hope that he can deliver a few more years of well-above-average play. There's just more downside risk than his otherwise strong foundational skills would suggest.
Which teams seem likeliest to pounce on Chapman? Here are five guesses.
We are extremely skeptical that the Brewers will get involved on Chapman in the early parts of the offseason. If, for some reason, he finds himself on the market into the new year, compelling him to consider short-term arrangements … well, then perhaps the Brewers would pop into the equation. There's no doubt he'd fit them well. Milwaukee could use a real solution at third base after spending last season entertaining Brian Anderson, Andruw Monasterio, and Josh Donaldson for various stretches of the season. It's just a matter of if (or when) his financial demands would fit into their budget.
The defending National League champions could use an upgrade at the hot corner, having received the sixth-worst production from third base last season. (The Marlins were the only playoff team to rank lower.) Free agent Evan Longoria could be on his way to retirement, and an Emmanuel Rivera-Jace Peterson platoon didn't work as well as anticipated. The Diamondbacks have all kinds of financial flexibility to play with, and Chapman would give Arizona another well-above-average position player to pair with outfielder Corbin Carroll and second baseman Ketel Marte.
The Yankees need to bolster their lineup somehow this winter. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll do so by making an addition to their infield. The Yankees have three spots at their disposal for Anthony Volpe, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Oswald Peraza. Even if they trade Torres (or, somehow, find a taker for LeMahieu) they'll still have more bodies than lineup spots. You can argue that they should sign Chapman anyway and figure out how it all fits later on -- maybe so, but that's not how the Yankees have operated as of late.
The Mets will serve as a wild-card club on several top free agents this winter until it becomes clear whether or not they're big-game shopping again. Chapman is no exception. It's possible that new boss David Stearns has a more bullish view of young Brett Baty's defensive ability. In that case, Baty will likely serve as the Mets' third baseman for most of the 2024 season. Should Stearns have a more bearish read on the former top prospect, then all bets are off and the Mets might end up emerging as a serious candidate to sign Chapman this offseason.
The Giants have tried hard to land a top free-agent hitter in recent winters, coming up just short on Aaron Judge and parachuting out of the Carlos Correa agreement over medical concerns. Chapman isn't on that level, per se, but he could bolster an offense that could use the help. The counterargument here is that the Giants already employ J.D. Davis and Casey Schmitt. To that, we'll say that Davis' glove is a poor fit at the hot corner and Schmitt didn't perform well enough at the plate to merit passing on a legit All-Star third baseman.