There are still various paths the Yankees’ search for shortstop help could take, and the organization has at least given some thought to a potential out-of-the-box solution. In an appearance on the Michael Kay Show this week, Buster Olney of ESPN said the Yankees “have talked a little bit…internally” about the possibility of acquiring A’s third baseman Matt Chapman with an eye towards moving him to shortstop.
All teams kick around outside-the-box possibilities to address areas of the roster, of course. That the front office has considered Chapman as a shortstop option doesn’t inherently mean they’re preparing for an all-out run at the Oakland third bagger coming out of the transactions freeze. Yet the idea sheds some light on the Bronx Bombers’ potential willingness to bolster the position in an atypical manner.
Chapman has played ten innings at shortstop as a big leaguer, starting one game there in 2020. Otherwise, he’s played exclusively at the hot corner, where he’s among the game’s top defenders. Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average have both given Chapman glowing reviews for his glovework throughout his career. Since Chapman made his big league debut in 2017, no third baseman has topped his +78 run mark from DRS. Only Nolan Arenado, at +71, is even in the same stratosphere; no one else is above +28. By measure of OAA, Chapman’s second at the position at +48 plays, with only Arenado rated more highly.
There’d be some risk in switching Chapman off a position at which he’s been so excellent. Yet it’s also easy to see why a team may give the idea some thought, since essentially no other third baseman can match Chapman’s glove and elite arm strength. Moves up the defensive spectrum are infrequent but not completely unheard of. The Rangers’ Isiah Kiner-Falefa, another reported player of interest to the Yankees, slid from third base to shortstop last season after a couple years of plus glovework at third. His defensive ratings at shortstop were mixed; DRS thought Kiner-Falefa was well above-average, while Statcast panned his work there.
The A’s are generally expected to make a few key players available in trade coming out of the lockout. Oakland is reportedly looking to trim payroll, and Chapman — projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $9.5MM salary in his penultimate season of arbitration — is among the costlier players on the roster. The A’s would be able to bring in a strong return for the 28-year-old based on the quality of his glove alone, but potential acquiring teams will also have to determine whether they believe he can regain his best form at the plate.
After combining for a .263/.348/.507 line between 2018-19, Chapman owns a .215/.306/.431 mark since the start of 2020. He’s seen a spike in swing-and-miss over the past couple seasons, striking out at the sixth-highest rate (33.1%) among players with 500+ plate appearances in that time. A right hip injury that necessitated September 2020 surgery could partially explain those struggles, but Chapman continued to whiff at an alarming rate throughout the 2021 campaign even as he’s gotten further removed from that procedure.
Of course, the Yankees could consider more traditional solutions to address their shortstop need. Carlos Correa and Trevor Story remain available on the free agent market, but reports have suggested New York may not want to make that kind of long-term investment with prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe nearing big league readiness. New York could turn to other stopgap options via free agency or trade. Players like Kiner-Falefa or Nick Ahmed may be available and would cost less prospect capital than Chapman would, albeit without comparable on-field upside. As things currently stand, Gio Urshela would likely be the top shortstop option in the Bronx but he could kick back over to third base if the Yankees address the position externally.