DUNEDIN, Fla. — Although Matt Chapman only had 24 hours to gather his things, board a cross-country flight and report to his new place of work, he made sure to set aside time for three calls phone calls from old friends.
Chris Bassitt weighed in from the New York Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Matt Olson, just a day before being sent to the Atlanta Braves and signing a eight-year, $168 million contract extension, called from the gulf coast. And Marcus Semien, who in 2021 blazed a trail from uncertainty in Oakland to riches and glory in Toronto, gave Chapman insight into life and baseball in Canada, and the bright new reality that he was about to live.
“He told me I’m going to love it,” Chapman said Friday morning of Semien, now a Texas Ranger, “and I’m going to love the guys.
“And I can say that he is already right.”
In just five days, the Oakland Athletics shipped three All-Stars to the East Coast, changing lives and stripping their franchise again to its foundation. The A’s fortified Mets rotation with Bassitt. In Olson, they provided the Braves with a cheaper All-Star alternative to Freddie Freeman.
And by offering Chapman to the Blue Jays, they might have put the finishing touches on something that looks like a great team.
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A programmed retooling process for the development of sophomore superstars Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette has kicked into high gear, a process kickstarted with the signing of left-handed All-Star Hyun-jin Ryu ($80 million) and outfielder George Springer ($150 million) to massive deals each of the past two seasons, and the acquisition of right-hander Jose Berríos, who signed a seven-year, $131 million extension.
Behind Guerrero’s MVP runner-up campaign, the Blue Jays won 91 games and lost a win before entering a three-team playoff derby, prompting Vladito to hang out at his Toronto condo for three days after the season, watching television without thinking and soaking up the misery before returning to the Dominican Republic.
His front office would soon soothe much of what was hurting him.
Scratching machine Kevin Gausman signed a $110 million contract ahead of the December lockout, joining Ryu and rugged sophomore pitcher Alek Manoah in the rotation. Lefty Yusei Kikuchi was added to a $36 million deal just a week ago. And the final, perhaps most impactful, piece of work from general manager Ross Atkins and club president Mark Shapiro came when they sent four prospects to Oakland for Chapman.
It’s no wonder the typically cautious Guerrero couldn’t be contained when asked about 2022 in Toronto.
“What we did last year was the trailer,” Guerrero. “Now you are going to see the movie.”
Chapman, for his part, is ready for the show.
‘Who are we receiving today?’
The parallels are too damning for Chapman to ignore. In June 2014, the A’s drafted Chapman 25th overall from Cal State Fullerton as third baseman Josh Donaldson assembled a dominating season that culminated in a wildcard loss to the Kansas City Royals.
Yet Oakland’s endless quest for a new ballpark — their aging but charming Oakland Coliseum serves as both an albatross and a cover to cut expenses — inspired club president Billy Beane to ship Donaldson to, yes, Toronto, for second baseman Brett Lawrie and three prospects, with only pitcher Kendall Graveman becoming a major league factor.
Donaldson won the 2015 AL MVP. The Blue Jays won the AL East, made back-to-back playoff appearances, and Rogers Center roared like it never did since Joe Carter touched them all one night in October 1993.
With Tampa Bay, Boston and the New York Yankees all loaded for the Bears in the AL East, it’s premature to assume the storyline plays out this year.
“This organization is ready to go,” said Springer, healthy after oblique, quadriceps and knee injuries that delayed his first season in Toronto. “Ross and Mark believe in us as a ball club and obviously expect us to do great things and we as players expect that as well.
“It’s a good time to be a Blue Jay.”
Chapman’s acquisition may well be the most impactful.
A two-time Platinum Glove winner with Oakland, Chapman will elevate Toronto in two places — third base, where Chapman’s legendary arm strength allows him to play deeper than any of his peers, and stop- short, where the athletic but not very long Bichette will benefit from his new running mate on the left side.
“Hopefully,” Chapman said, “he won’t have to take too many setbacks. I want to help her as best I can. »
Manager Charlie Montoyo notes that Blue Jays pitchers induced more third-round ground balls than any staffer in 2021, a rate that is expected to increase with Gausman, who relies heavily on a fastball at split fingers, in tow. Gausman struck out 227 in 192 innings for the Giants and also ranked 26th among all pitchers in strikeouts.
The simmering rumors about Chapman’s trade, combined with Toronto’s obvious aggression, made for an exciting week of camp after the lockout.
“It gives us so much confidence as a team,” said starter Ross Stripling. “It’s almost like, ‘Who are we getting today? What’s going on today?’ It’s that kind of feeling.
“A Platinum Glove winner, you can’t ask for much more.”
Chapman won’t proclaim the Blue Jays infield — Bichette for short, probably Cavan Biggio at second and Guerrero at the start — the best in baseball, but says they should be in the conversation. It’s also striking how their best players are still in contention.
“More in There”
If not for Shohei Ohtani, Guerrero would have equaled his father as AL MVP – at 22, no less. He led the AL in homers (48), on base (.401), slugging (.601) and OPS and led the majors in total bases. The long-awaited breakout came after an off-season of vigorous training when Vladito, like many of us, put on a few too many pounds during the COVID-19 quarantine.
This winter, he persevered, this time focusing on more strength and flexibility.
“He was almost the MVP, but the funniest thing about it – there’s more to it,” Montoyo says. “He may even have a better year offensively and it’s not easy to say, with the numbers he put up.”
Springer says Guerrero and Bichette are both precocious players and still marvel at Guerrero’s offensive maturity for a guy who turned 23 two days ago.
“It’s how willing he is to learn, to accept criticism, to ignore his success and to accept to improve every day,” Springer says of Guerrero. “What gets lost is how young he is.
“To see what he did last year at his age is impressive, but I don’t think he’s scratched the surface of who he’s going to be.”
Chapman, who turns 28 in April and has two seasons left before free agency, may be closer to his prime, but also expects to be a different player in 2022. slowed down in 2020 and he underwent surgery in September, keeping him out of work at lower bodyweight this winter. His OPS fell from 0.856 in 2018-19 to 0.716 last season, but he says he can stay on the ball again after resuming a more typical off-season routine.
There is no measure of peace of mind, which Chapman should enjoy now that his near future is settled after years of disruption in Oakland.
“I think when you get there, it’s something you know is going on,” he says of the talent rotation. “I came into the cycle where I was one of the young players and then we got through and got to the playoffs and had success there. You don’t think about it until it happens.
“At the end, in Oakland, a lot of guys were starting to wonder what direction this was going. Coming here, the direction is clear – you want to win a World Series and do everything they can to make it happen. It’s great to come to an organization where they’re excited to win and want to give players everything they need to be successful.
A’s elders were very successful after they left. Semien turned a one-year contract in Toronto into a 45 home run season and an eventual $175 million contract with Texas. Olson nearly matched it with his long-term pact in Atlanta. Bassitt will come to market after a season with the Big spenders.
Chapman could still fall in love with Toronto, where fans are particularly thirsty after pandemic restrictions forced the team to play in Dunedin and Buffalo for most of 2020 and 21, before partial participation was allowed at Rogers. Center last July.
This year, there are no restrictions.
“Last year, when we had 15,000, then 30,000, we felt like we were at 100,000,” Springer says. “I know this team is thrilled to play in one place, our home for the whole year, in front of our fans.”
Boom times are a relief after years of limited spending once the Donaldson-Jose Bautista Jays slowly dispersed. Springer heard it in his recruiting pitch; now, actions speak much louder.
“That’s all they said they were going to do,” Springer said. “To show guys confidence in the locker room. To surround them with guys who can make them better. You see the commitment to the team.
“The organization thinks we’re a very, very good team, bringing in guys that will have an immediate impact.”
They might have saved the most impactful for last, capping off a crazy week that decimated one franchise and improved three others, perhaps no more than the one north of the border.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The Blue Jays super team ready for the show with the arrival of Matt Chapman