Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has hit impressively at every level of baseball he has played in. He is the Blue Jays #1 prospect, and he might even be the best player currently on the Blue Jays active roster. Yet that might not be enough to have him head north with the team at the conclusion of spring training. Why?
Service manipulation. Plain and simple.
If Vlad Guerrero Jr is called up after three weeks into the 2019 season the Blue Jays would stand to gain another year of playing time and push-off his free agency for another season. I’m not saying that its a bad thing to get an extra year out of what could be a generational talent. However there may be some ways that the talented young rookie does manage break camp with the Blue Jays right away in 2019, and there are a few different ways that it could happen.
Monster spring training: What happens when Vlad Jr shows up to Dunedin in 2019 and absolutely dominates? From what we have seen so far from Vlad Jr’s tools, there is no reason he can’t be the best Blue Jay hitter statistically this upcoming spring training. Atlanta Braves super prospect Ronald Acuna may be a good comparable, in 44 spring training at-bats in 2018 Acuna had 19 hits, 4HR, and 11 RBI’s batting .432 with a .519 OBP.
If Vlad Jr were to surpass those numbers then it might make it harder for the Blue Jays to say Vlad Jr is not ready, especially if he does proceed with a players association case against the Blue Jays for time manipulation.
To build a better relationship with both Vlad Jr and the City of Toronto: Jays Journal’s own Chris Henderson wrote about how bringing Vlad North to begin the season could help build a more solid relationship with Vlad Jr. But what about the relationship between the Jays front office and the fans? Fielding your best team, and showing fans that they indeed do care about the product goes a long way in appeasing fans during a down season. Toronto is a notoriously tough fan base and media meat grinder.
How much does front office want an article written a day about how Vlad Jr should be in the majors? How much is it worth to them to not have their fan base constantly reading articles about time manipulation, and them holding off buying tickets or tuning in until truly the best team is fielded.
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Injuries: Currently on the Jays 40 man roster there are 4 players with MLB third baseman experience in 2018. Brandon Drury (15 games), Russel Martin (21 games), Richard Urena (3 games), and most recently non-tendered Yangervis Solarte (83 games). Now Solarte may end up back on the Blue Jays, but I would bet against it. I would guess the front office starts the season with Russel Martin/Brandon Drury covering the hot corner.
This makes sense as both have some experience at third and could seemingly make it through the first three weeks of the season decently, especially when standings are of little concern. However what happens if both of them were to get injured.
That situation would leave only Richard Urena as the only active roster player with any 2018 MLB experience at third, and only 3 games at that. One must think that if it comes down to just Richard Urena available at third, then the Jays hand is forced. Any other prospects called up instead of Vlad Jr. at that point would only strengthen an MLBPA service time manipulation case, and simultaneously anger the entire Blue Jays fan base at once.
Montreal: Mark your calendars folks. On Monday, March 25th, and Tuesday, March 26th, 2019. Vlad Jr will make his triumphant return to Montreal. If you can remember correctly last years Olympic stadium series was capped off by a dramatic Vlad Jr game winning home run. It was easily the most exciting moment for Blue Jays fans in 2018, and it occurred during spring training!
You can pretty much guarantee that Vlad Jr will be playing in both games of the series, otherwise, the fans in Montreal might riot. If Vlad Jr were to be the best player on the field in those two games, how would Jays fans react the next day if he was sent down to the minors? Not good.
My hope is that Vlad Jr finds some more of that Montreal magic, and solidifies his position as opening day third baseman in that series.