The Detroit Tigers still have a hole at third base, and the calendar year of 2024 is fast approaching. The hole has been there ever since Scott Harris cut Jeimer Candelario loose back in November of 2022.
They went the entire 2023 season without a dedicated third baseman on the roster, and things went about as well as you'd expect them to. Tigers third baseman combined for a 72 wRC+ and a -1.0 fWAR. Who would have thought that a combination of Nick Maton, Matt Vierling, Andy Ibanez, Zack McKinstry and other roster fodder wouldn't cut it?
The Tigers have addressed several other needs this offseason, which is obviously a good thing. The starting rotation and bullpen are both in pretty good shape, at least in terms of bodies. But the lineup, specifically third base, still needs work.
We've said many times throughout this offseason that a trade would probably be the best route to fill that void. But there is one free agent third baseman that many Tigers fan still want, and that's Matt Chapman.
Chapman got off to scorching start last year, to the point that he was gaining some early MVP hype. He hit .384 with a 216 wRC+ and a whopping .303 ISO through the first month of the season. It was looking like he was going to get paid this offseason.
Unfortunately, the rest of the season didn't go as well for him. He hit just .205 with a 84 wRC+ from May onward. He walked at a 10.3 % clip, which is good, but he also struck out almost 30% of the time.
Even with his struggles at the plate, he was still able to put up a 3.5 fWAR season thanks to his elite defense at the hot corner. This is something Chapman has been known for. He can pick it with the best of them. That would certainly be a welcome addition.
Now Chapman has been someone that I have personally been against signing because he feels like a Javier Baez type of player. It feels like a sharp decline is coming soon — and it may have even already started. The Tigers already have have one black hole on the left side of the infield. They don't need another.
However, if Chapman and his camp would be willing to take a one-year prove-it deal, I would be willing to take a chance on him — and so should the Tigers.
It's something Chapman's camp should definitely consider. A lot of teams probably see how poor he was the last five months of the season and are pretty suspect of his long term viability. But if they would be willing to take a one-year deal with an option, whether it be a player or a club option, it could allow Chapman a chance to prove that he's still got it.
There have been deals like this that have worked out for the player before. Josh Donaldson signed a one-year deal with the Braves in 2018, and he had a great year and was rewarded with a four-year payday with the Twins the following offseason. It's not unheard of.
And for the Tigers, this would be a winner. It doesn't matter how much money Chapman wants because it's only one year, and they have plenty of payroll room. If you give him the player option and he pops off in 2024, he'll exercise it and he'll be gone after the season, so he wouldn't block anybody.
For the short-term, Chapman would be at least give you elite defense, and the potential that he finds his offense again. It would at least show that the Tigers want to compete in 2024.
Now, Chapman's camp will likely hold out for a long term deal for as long as they can, and rightfully so. They should do whatever he can to make sure he gets the bag. But if we get to late January, early February and he still hasn't signed, they may want to pivot.
Matt Chapman isn't the long term solution at third base for the Detroit Tigers. But he could be the short term solution, and that's much better than the alternative.