The White Sox signed another young player to a long-term extension, and the Blue Jays should consider doing the same with Nate Pearson.
As MLB baseball continues to evolve, every front office around the league is looking for ways to gain an advantage on the competition. Lately, the Chicago White Sox have been leading the way lately with one newer strategy, and it’s something I believe the Blue Jays should consider as well.
Rather than deal with the potential fallout of the “service time” discussion, the White Sox elected to sign Luis Robert, one of their top prospects, to a six-year, 50 million dollar contract that has the potential to be as big as eight years and 88 million. They made this move just one year after they signed a similar contract with Eloy Jimenez for six years and 43 million, and neither player had played a MLB game before agreeing to their deals.
And if I’m in the Blue Jays’ front office right now, I’d be telling anyone who would listen that the Blue Jays should do the same thing with Nate Pearson.
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You might be thinking that the Blue Jays have other young stars to lock up before they worry about Pearson, and that would be a fair point. After all, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, and more made their rookie debuts last season, and their service clocks have now started. Let me be clear that I would be more than thrilled if the Blue Jays came to a long-term agreement with any or all of those position players, but I genuinely believe they should start with Pearson.
For starters (no pun intended), Pearson has one thing in common with the two White Sox prospects in the lack of a big league debut. Jimenez played a full season in 2019, but part of the reason for that was because of his new contract. He was limited to 122 games in his rookie season, but he was in the lineup on March 28th, as the White Sox no longer had to worry about the issue of service time factoring into their decision. Now that Robert is under contract, the White Sox are almost assured to break camp with him as their starting centre fielder in 2020.
The Blue Jays are facing a similar situation with Pearson this spring, even if they have more ammunition for their argument to hold him back than the White Sox did with their two budding stars.
The fact is, there’s a very good chance that Pearson is one of the Blue Jays’ top five starters right now, and if it were as simple as the best players making the team out of Spring Training, he’d be looking at a very good chance to do so. However, the Blue Jays can use a number of different arguments against the idea, including the depth they’ve acquired this winter (Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, and Matt Shoemaker returning from injury), or the fact that a broken arm on a freak come-backer in 2018 has limited Pearson to 123.1 professional innings so far. The Blue Jays could make the argument that he needs to build up his innings count, and there would be some validity to that point.
Wouldn’t it be great if they could avoid the situation altogether though? Ross Atkins and company got lucky last season when Guerrero Jr. had a minor injury during Spring Training, which delayed his start to the season enough that the service time issue became a moot point. It won’t be a factor for guys like Bichette or Biggio either because of their later starts to the season, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is already under a defined contract. The front office can negotiate with each of those potential young stars, but there shouldn’t be any immediate pressure there.
As for Pearson, the Blue Jays could be wise to try and lock him up right now. Sure, there are always risks when it comes to signing a pitcher to a long-term deal, and Pearson profiles as a hard-throwing starter than could eventually run into elbow issues (think of the strain that a 105 MPH+ fastball puts on your arm). However, if the Blue Jays are interested in a calculated risk, they could potentially sign him at a reduced rate in exchange for signing him early, and we’ve already watched teams like the Braves benefit from that idea with young stars like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. He could start the year in the rotation, and like Aaron Sanchez did in the past, transition to the bullpen when his innings count started to become worrisome.
As I’ve said above, the Blue Jays’ front office does have some valid reasons for starting Pearson’s season in Triple-A in 2020, and I would assume that the rotation depth and his need to build up an innings count will be familiar topics this spring. With just under two months until pitchers and catchers report, there is plenty of time to change that conversation, and hopefully the Blue Jays are considering doing just that.