It’s been a recent trend in MLB for teams to lock up their young stars lately. The Blue Jays may do that with some of theirs, but it’s also possible it needs to wait for a while yet.
As the Blue Jays approach the off-season with a fairly lengthy checklist of things to accomplish, there are a variety of ways that Ross Atkins and the rest of the front office could go.
There are questions that will need to be answered about the 40-man roster, spots in the starting rotation that need filling, and maybe a few finishing touches to the lineup like a centre fielder, or maybe a first base/DH type. Most of the work will come through the free agent market and trade markets, but I wouldn’t rule out the idea that some of the most important work could come with some players that are already on the roster.
One of the recent trends we’ve seen in the big leagues over the last few years is for teams to lock up their young stars, even before they’re eligible for arbitration. We saw the Atlanta Braves do it with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, and the White Sox did the same with Eloy Jimenez last year as well. There’s a good argument that the Blue Jays should be exploring the possibility with some of their own young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and maybe others, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that the timing probably doesn’t work. Not quite yet anyway.
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As exciting as Vlad Jr. is as a 20-year-old potential phenom, it’s really hard to forecast his long-term value at this point. I say that mostly because we don’t know where he’s going to fit on defence in the long run, and that will greatly impact his value. If he can continue to develop and become even a slightly above average third baseman, his earning potential will be far greater than if he’s limited to slotting in the lineup at 1B/DH. Until that question is answered, I feel like it’s going to be almost impossible for his agent and the club to come to an extension agreement. Maybe there’s a middle ground to be found, but I really believe that will come a year or two from now, if it ever does.
With that in mind, can the Blue Jays consider extending Bichette right now? Personally, I don’t think they can deal with one potential franchise cornerstone without the other having the same discussions, at least at this early stage of their careers. That’s not to say that they’re tied at the hip, but this is about investing in the long-term of this team, and is it worth locking up one player at the risk of alienating another? I realize they’ll both be here for at least the next six seasons unless they’re traded before somehow, but building that trusting relationship now will be significant. Things could look completely different a year from now, but right now I think they’d almost have to give them matching extensions or else it could be a point of contention for one party or another.
The other factor at play in all of this is the uncertain futures of Atkins and Mark Shapiro. Shapiro’s current contract runs out after the 2020 season and Atkins has signed up through 2021, and it’s hard to say whether or not the relationship will continue with either party beyond the upcoming season. If I had to wager a guess I would place my money on a Shapiro extension before the season starts, but that’s not exactly a guarantee. I’m sure ownership would be fine with them pursuing a long-term extension with players like this regardless, but it’s possible that the players themselves would want to see a defined direction. Again, waiting another year could bring a lot of clarity to the situation as well.
So while I’m not at all opposed to the idea of the Blue Jays trying to lock up their future superstars, I’m not expecting that to happen this off-season. If it does, great, but I’m guessing it’ll be at least another year before those discussions gain any serious traction.