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To Trade or not to Trade: Matt Chapman

Is now really the right time to sell low on a face of the franchise?

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

When the lockout ends and the Oakland Athletics embark on a roster tear-down, with all signs pointing towards an imminent rebuild, former All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman could be one of the players shipped out of town.

I say could because his situation isn’t as cut-and-dried as first baseman Matt Olson or some of the starting pitchers, players much more likely to be traded. The former 1st round pick out of Cal State Fullerton came onto the scene in 2017 with high expectations, and after a promising rookie year he helped lead the 2018 and 2019 A’s squads to 97 wins and a spot in two Wild Card Games.

Over the past two seasons, though, Chapman has looked far from the ballplayer that came in top-7 in MVP voting in 2018 and ‘19.

  • Chapman, 2018-2019: .263/.348/.507, 132 wRC+, 10.2% BB, 22.8% K
  • Chapman, 2020-2021: .215/.306/.431, 104 wRC+, 11.4% BB, 33.1% K

Even before tearing his right hip labrum in early September of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Chapman wasn’t performing to the lofty standards he’d set for himself in his second and third years. His strikeout percentage skyrocketed to a third of his plate appearances, partly because his swinging-strike rate shot up from 9.0% to 13.6% during those splits.

At the same time, he halved his walk rate in 2020, leading to a ghastly .276 OBP. While his walk rate would return and actually mark a career-high 12.9% in 2021, struggles with strikeouts continued festering into the year, with many observers and fans wondering if the hip issue was really solved. His 2021 was one of inconsistency, with April, June and August his good-to-great months, and May, July, and September his poor-to-awful ones.

For all the worry and unpredictability that the front office has to consider when deciding what to do with the soon-to-be 29-year-old, the best part of Chapman’s game hasn’t followed the same course as his bat. Chappy has continued his awesome defense and even brought home the 2021 Gold Glove to back it up. The 3-time Gold Glove and 2-time Platinum Glove winner is still one of the top defenders at the hot corner.

Had Chapman continued his run of dominance at the plate and stayed healthy over the past two years, the decision to trade him this offseason would likely be much more of a slam dunk. His projected $9.5 MM arbitration salary isn’t egregious on its own, but for an Athletics club probably not preparing for contention in 2022, it’s a lot of money to spend for a luxury.

The question then becomes: Are the offers teams are putting forth for Chapman better than what Oakland could get if they roll the dice, hope for a big first-half, and attempt to trade him mid-season? And is the difference between what you can get now versus at the Trade Deadline worth the added risk of keeping Chapman for the first half?

This is a difficult call. On the one hand, trading Chapman away now is selling at his lowest value. If the front office has reason to believe Chapman’s hip has really been the problem over the past two seasons and believe he’s over the hump now, then it might be worth waiting to see if he can bounce back to being an MVP candidate in 2022. Gambling on his talent could yield a higher return later. There will still be a level of demand for him when the lockout ends, even after his relative off-year, but are the offers going to be strong enough to provoke movement?

On the other hand, this could be as good as it gets. His strikeout issues are of particular concern, and he has a major surgery on his health record, and his remaining years of team control will only go down from here. At roughly $9.5MM he’s not exactly cheap for the A’s, but he still looks eminently affordable for wealthier contenders around the league. Just because the situation isn’t as perfect as we’d like doesn’t mean it’s going to improve from here, and this might be the best time to sell.

Verdict: If the Athletics embark on a quest to trade the most expensive players on the team, then they should fully lean into tearing down the roster and preparing for the next crop of young talent. Teams will still give up quality young players right now for Chapman, who has a high floor due to his elite defense and power. Trading him now banks value for the franchise and might make their rebuild last a year or two shorter if they get back the right players.

Prediction: The A’s don’t take the risk of Chapman getting injured again or continuing his downward trajectory at the plate. Both the team and player get a fresh start with a trade soon after the lockout ends. Come Opening Day, Matt Chapman is wearing a different uniform.

What do you think? Vote in the poll below!

Poll

Should the A’s trade Matt Chapman before the 2022 season?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Yes, cash in now, and maximize the rebuild
    (265 votes)
  • 59%
    No, don’t sell low, gamble on him bouncing back this year
    (385 votes)
650 votes total Vote Now