Blue Jays: Is Bo Bichette next for service time manipulation?

WASHINGTON, D.C. - JULY 15: Bo Bichette #5 makes a catch during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park on July 15, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - JULY 15: Bo Bichette #5 makes a catch during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park on July 15, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

There’s a reason that ladimir Guerrero Jr. likely won’t start the season in the big leagues, and why we might not see Bo Bichette in Toronto at all in 2019.

By now it’s pretty common knowledge that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. seems destined to start the 2019 season in Buffalo playing in Triple-A. He’s already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s ready to hit at the highest level last year, but that’s not what his delay is about.

You’ll likely hear a few different “reasons” for why he’ll start the year in Triple-A, but in reality there is only one: so the Blue Jays can gain an additional year of contract control. MLB players have a running total on their major league service time (read more here), and by delaying Guerrero’s MLB start they can control his contract for seven years instead of six. It’s not exactly fair to the player, but you can’t blame the front office for protecting their long term interests. It’ll also likely be one of the bigger issues when the league and the MLBPA sort out their next collective bargaining agreement.

Guerrero Jr. isn’t alone in getting this treatment either, as we are seeing the same thing from the White Sox and Eloy Jimenez, and we’ve watched it happen to current MLB stars like Kris Bryant in the past as well. For now there’s not a lot that players can do about it, so budding stars like Guerrero will just have to suck it up and know that the end game is very near.

More from Jays Journal

Until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out, I can’t help but wonder if this is going to be a trend that continues across the league (especially if front offices don’t think they’ll be able to get away with it much longer), and if the Blue Jays might take advantage of the “loophole” one more time with another of their own. I’m talking of course about Bo Bichette, the Blue Jays’ #2 prospect.

The talented middle infielder spent last season in Double-A New Hampshire after playing in Lansing and Dunedin in his first full season as a pro the year before. He wasn’t the world beater he’d been in 2017, but he still produced a very good slash line of .286/.343/.453, hitting 43 doubles, 11 home runs, 74 RBI, and 32 stolen bases in 131 games.

After having chased hitting .400 in Lansing the year before and often being seen as the “Robin” to Vlad Jr’s “Batman” as minor league rookies, some folks viewed Bichette’s 2018 as a bit of a disappointment, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The only real reason that anyone feels that way is because Guerrero Jr. is an off-the-charts talent, and it’s foolish to use him as a measuring stick for anyone. The 20 year old Bichette was still very good, and he’s getting better by the day.

Chances are good that he’ll start the season in Buffalo with the Bisons, and the Blue Jays shouldn’t have a lot of reason to rush him to the big leagues right away. Right now they’ve got Lourdes Gurriel Jr. slated to be the starting shortstop, and some depth behind him in Richard Urena, and MiLB free agent Eric Sogard. It’s also possible that Ross Atkins pursues some additional middle infield help, particularly someone who could add depth at shortstop. That role could go to Bichette later in the year, or if injury strikes the candidates above him, but the Blue Jays justifiably don’t want to rush him either, and would like to give him a chance to play through the Triple-A level.

What’ll be interesting to watch is if the Blue Jays decide to promote him at all in 2019, or if they use the same service time manipulation method on him next spring. A lot of that situation will be dictated by his play in Buffalo, and also the health and performance of the big leaguers above him on the depth chart, but it’s conceivable that the Blue Jays would rather not promote him at all this season. There was no doubt that Vlad Jr. was ready last year, and yet the front office held firm to the story that he needed more work on his defence.

For what it’s worth, Atkins has already stated that he hopes Bichette “forces their hand” in 2019, but it remains to be seen what qualifies for such a thing. One could argue that Guerrero did as much last year and wasn’t rewarded with a promotion, so who knows what sort of milestones they have for Bichette to hit before he sees the big leagues, or if that’s part of the plan at all.

Next. To those who say Roy Halladay shouldn't be a 1st ballot HOFer. dark

For now the Blue Jays plan to go with a middle infield that includes Gurriel Jr., Urena, Devon Travis, and Brandon Drury anyway, so they don’t have to rush Bichette as long as injuries don’t require as much. However, it’ll be interesting to see how Atkins and company handle things if and when there are injuries or struggles, particularly to Guerriel or Urena. I can see the argument on both sides of the coin, but the fan in me just wants to see the best players on the diamond, and hopefully Bichette will be given that chance when he’s ready, service time be damned.