Matt Chapman’s tenure with the Blue Jays ended for good when the third baseman signed with the Giants yesterday, scuttling any chances of a possible return to Toronto. The Blue Jays’ additions of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Justin Turner didn’t entirely close the door on the possibility that Chapman and the Jays could perhaps reach some sort of deal, especially since we just saw Cody Bellinger (like Chapman, a Boras Corporation client) re-sign with his former team on a short-term contract with multiple opt-outs.
The Jays had also been linked to Chapman’s market earlier this winter, and their interest in retaining Chapman dated back well before he entered free agency. Back in November, TSN’s Scott Mitchell reported that Chapman had at some point turned down an extension offer worth more than $100MM over four or five years. Mitchell added more detail in a post on X earlier today, saying the Blue Jays’ offer was actually a six-year pact worth $120MM.
Chapman ended up with a three-year, $54MM guarantee from San Francisco, and the third baseman can opt out of the deal after either the 2024 or 2025 seasons. Based on sheer dollar value alone, it is easy to second-guess Chapman’s decision to reject Toronto’s extension offer at the moment, though six years and $120MM would’ve seemed like something of a bargain for Chapman for much of the 2023 campaign. Even though a finger injury contributed to Chapman’s big dropoff at the plate late in the season, MLBTR still projected him to land six years and $150MM this winter, owing to both his still-excellent defensive play, his outstanding advanced metrics, and the lack of position-player depth in the rest of the free agent class.
However, a bustling market never really seemed to develop. The Mariners, Cubs, Blue Jays, and Giants ended up being the only teams publicly linked to Chapman, and the third baseman ultimately chose the shorter-term deal with San Francisco, with the opt-out giving him a chance for a quick re-entry into free agency next offseason. He’ll bank $20MM in salary from the Giants before making that decision, and a more consistent 2024 season will likely position Chapman for a more lucrative long-term deal (and he won’t be attached to qualifying-offer compensation). While simply signing that extension with the Blue Jays would’ve erased any of this future uncertainty, Chapman seems willing to bet on himself in having a better platform year.
From Toronto’s perspective, it isn’t known if the Jays (or any other teams) had also floated this type of player option-heavy shorter-term deal to Chapman at any point. If the Blue Jays were indeed out of Chapman, Mitchell wonders if payroll constraints might have been a factor, as the Jays are on pace for their second straight year with a club-record payroll, as well as a second year over luxury tax overage. RosterResource estimates Toronto’s tax number at around $248.6MM, and re-signing Chapman to an $18MM average annual value would’ve put Toronto well over the second tier ($257MM) of luxury tax penalization, and inching closer to the third tier that begins at $277MM.
It could be that the Jays are satisfied enough with Kiner-Falefa, Turner, and the in-house infield options that they were comfortable moving on from Chapman even at a reduced price tag. Or, perhaps the Jays did make Chapman a similar offer to the Giants’ contract, but Chapman simply preferred to return to the Bay Area and re-unite with Bob Melvin, his old manager from his days with the Athletics.
Turning to some news from the Blue Jays’ spring camp in Dunedin, manager John Schneider told reporters (including MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson) that Alek Manoah won’t throw for a few days after feeling some soreness in his right shoulder during a bullpen session. An MRI didn’t reveal any structural damage, so Manoah will be re-evaluated in a few days’ time. According to Schneider, Manoah said his shoulder felt “a bit cranky, so we wanted to be extra careful at this point.”
While there isn’t any indication that the injury is anything more than basic soreness, the shoulder issue adds to Manoah’s status as the biggest question mark on the Blue Jays roster. After seemingly breaking out as a frontline pitcher in 2021-22, Manoah struggled badly in 2023, posting a 5.87 ERA in 87 1/3 big league innings. Manoah spent the offseason under a changed nutrition and training plan, but his first spring outing wasn’t promising, as he allowed four runs on three hits and three hit batters over 1 2/3 innings last Tuesday.
Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios, and Yusei Kikuchi are Toronto’s top four starters, with Manoah somewhat tentatively penciled into the fifth spot. Bowden Francis seems like the top candidate on the depth chart should any holes open in the rotation, with Schneider also citing Mitch White and non-roster invite Paolo Espino. Top prospect Ricky Tiedemann is more likely to begin the season at Triple-A, and Tiedemann is only getting back to regular prep work after missing some time with minor inflammation in his calf and hamstring.
Yariel Rodriguez is another new face in camp, as the right-hander is looking to make his MLB debut after signing a five-year, $32MM free agent contract. Apart from the World Baseball Classic, however, Rodriguez didn’t pitch in 2023, as he spent the year preparing to jump to the majors after spending his first eight pro seasons in the Cuban Serie Nacional and with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Chunichi Dragons.
Given this long layoff, it isn’t surprising that Rodriguez has some rust, and Schneider told Sportsnet and other media yesterday that Rodriguez had some back spasms earlier in camp that delayed his prep work. The righty is slated to throw a bullpen session today and is “feeling 100 per cent right now,” according to Schneider. “That was kind of our plan, to take it slow and really get him acclimated. But he should have enough time to hopefully ramp up to multiple innings when he does get into games,” the manager said.