Matt Chapman, Not Kris Bryant, Should Be New York Mets' No. 1 Trade Priority

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 16, 2021

Oakland Athletics' Matt Chapman warms up before a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Sure, the New York Mets could trade for Kris Bryant. But since such a move wouldn't put them on the same level as the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Mets would be better off trying to do, well, better.

For instance, Matt Chapman.

Last Thursday, Craig Carton of the Carton & Roberts show revealed that the Mets have engaged the Oakland Athletics about their star third baseman:

Whether Chapman is actually attainable is a good question. There's little question, however, that the Mets will have put a perfect bow on their wild offseason if they're able to get him.

                  

Matt Chapman's Resume

  • 27 years old
  • No. 25 pick in the 2014 draft
  • Made MLB debut on June 25, 2017
  • Career .255/.336/.503 line with 84 home runs in 422 games
  • MLB-high 81 defensive runs saved since 2017
  • Gold Glover and Platinum Glover in 2018 and 2019
  • All-Star in 2019
  • Will earn $6.5 million in 2021
  • Free agent after 2023

                          

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Chapman vs. Bryant Isn't Much of a Debate

Even as is, this is already the most exciting offseason that the Mets have had in years.

It started with a much-welcome change in ownership when the Wilpons sold the club to Steve Cohen in November. With the help of Cohen's deep pockets, the Mets have also upgraded their roster by trading for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco and signing James McCann, Trevor May and others.

At least on paper, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs project the Mets as the team to beat in the National League East this season. But since the NL East is arguably the deepest division in baseball, it wouldn't hurt the Mets to pad their chances. The right move would also inch them closer to the Dodgers and San Diego Padres, who are rightfully projected to be the top two teams in the National League.

A trade for Bryant—which SNY's Andy Martino says is among the Mets' internal options—would certainly be a right move. But the right move? Not so much.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The Chicago Cubs third baseman was one of the league's elite players between 2015 and 2017, when he amassed a 141 OPS+, 94 home runs and 18.2 rWAR. Notably, he was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2015 and the NL MVP in 2016.

Alas, the 29-year-old hasn't been the same guy over the last three seasons. He's managed only a 121 OPS+, and he's coming off a downright awful 73 OPS+ in 2020. Likewise, he's accumulated only 6.0 rWAR since 2018.

Injuries such as a sore shoulder in 2018 and a sprained finger in 2020 have contributed to Bryant's decline. What's more, underlying metrics such as his exit velocity, hard-contact rate and sprint speed have also taken a turn for the worse.

Granted, all this makes Bryant an intriguing buy-low candidate for the Mets. But since he's due for free agency after 2021, a trade for him would amount to a boom-or-bust gamble.

A trade for Chapman would be a different story. He's not only younger and more controllable than Bryant but also significantly better when he's right.

Only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts racked up more rWAR than Chapman across the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Chapman mustered a 131 OPS+ and 60 home runs, and he was to playing the hot corner what William Shakespeare was to writing plays.

Like Bryant, Chapman had a down year in 2020. He struggled through a huge strikeout increase en route to a .232 average and .276 on-base percentage, and he was oddly non-phenomenal on defense in accounting for only two defensive runs saved.

All this happened in just a 37-game sample, as Chapman's season ended early when he underwent surgery on his right hip in September. His agent, Scott Boras, proclaimed him "ready to go" for 2021 back in December. But considering the source, such an endorsement doesn't necessarily erase all questions.

It's nevertheless encouraging that Chapman managed to put up some impressive numbers last year despite his strikeout issues and his eventual hip surgery. He pummeled the ball when he did make contact, finishing with an exit velocity in the 98th percentile and a hard-hit rate in the 95th percentile.

So if he is healthy, Chapman won't need a total reboot in 2021 in order to get back to where he was in '18 and '19. And if he does indeed get back and stay on that track, he stands to provide three MVP-caliber seasons between now and the end of his club control.

                                     

Should the Mets Do It?

As good as the Mets are, their swing-and-miss at reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer was an indication that they're not fully satisfied with their offseason haul. They clearly want one more star.

Because there aren't any of those left on the free-agent market, a trade for Chapman is perhaps the best move the Mets can make. And provided the A's are open to the idea, the Mets should do it.

If there's any argument to the contrary, it's that such a deal would cost the Mets a proverbial arm and a leg. Because in addition to ultra-talented, young and controllable, Chapman is also relatively cheap. He'll earn $6.5 million in 2021, and he'll remain underpaid via arbitration through 2023.

What would a trade for a player like that cost the Mets? We can only speculate, but we'd guess that the A's would need a controllable major leaguer like Dominic Smith or Jeff McNeil and a top prospect such as Ronny Mauricio. 

Still, any trade for Chapman would be a net positive for the Mets. Possibly excepting Lindor—who's an MVP-caliber star in his own right—Chapman has more upside than anyone the Mets have in their everyday lineup. And unlike Lindor, he'd remain in said lineup for two additional years after 2021.

In short, a trade for Chapman would be a lasting leg up for the Mets.

                                                       

Would the A's Do It?

Ah, but this is where things get complicated.

Despite Chapman's issues in 2020, it's largely because of him that the A's have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. And because they're ostensibly still in contention for the American League West title in 2021, in theory, it behooves them to keep him around.

Plus, the clock isn't exactly ticking on Chapman. With three years still standing between him and the open market, he's not in the same free-agent-to-be boat that housed Lindor this winter and Betts last winter.

One catch, though, is that the A's face a tall order in living up to their recent track record in 2021.

They've lost a bunch of talent—including Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks and Tommy La Stella—to free agency, and they've done little to make up the difference. It's little wonder, then, that Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs each projects them to finish third in the AL West.

Another catch is Oakland's financial situation. 

The A's are a low-revenue, low-payroll team even in the best of times, so it figures that they're hurting more than most after the coronavirus pandemic cost MLB billions of dollars last year. For his part, Chapman is already Oakland's fourth-most expensive player, and he's only going to get more costly in 2022 and 2023.

Along with a healthy dose of cynicism, such things could open the Athletics' ears to offers for Chapman. And in the Mets, they might see a chance to squeeze an especially suitable price out of a singularly desperate suitor.

Since this is all just speculation, holding your breath waiting for Chapman to go from the A's to the Mets is not advised. But if it does happen, nobody should be gasping in surprise.

                                   

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.