The Blue Jays’ Mark Shapiro addressed the idea of extending the contracts of some of his young stars, and reminded media that he’s done it before.
Baseball has been trending in a younger direction over the last couple of years, in terms of player value, and even when it comes to landing a long-term contract.
We’ve already watched pre-arbitration eligible young stars like Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and more sign long-term deals with their respect clubs before having much or ANY experience at the MLB level, and there are many folks who believe the Blue Jays should explore the idea with some of their budding stars. And after a successful rookie season from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and more, the Blue Jays could have a few candidates that would fit the mold well.
The idea would be to lock them up now before they reach their full potential, betting that they’ll do just that after seeing a relatively small sample size. There are a lot of good reasons to believe in the Blue Jays’ trio, but there have been plenty of prospects who have struggled before as the league adjusted to them, so in theory there is some risk as well. However, it should be a risk that the Blue Jays are willing to take, and it sounds like Mark Shapiro is very open-minded to the idea.
The Blue Jays President and CEO addressed the topic with Stephen Brunt and Jeff Blair on Writers Bloc on Sportsnet 590 The FAN on Tuesday, and made it pretty clear that if the right common ground could be found with guys like Vlad Jr. or Bichette, that it’s an option on the table. He also reminded Brunt and Blair that it’s a strategy that he’s used before, in his previous position with the Cleveland Indians.
"“That is a strategy which (has been) a very big part of my career,” said Shapiro, who did the same in Cleveland with Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and all-star Jason Kipnis. “And it’s something that we believe strongly in.”"
This strategy certainly worked well if you use the Kluber contract as a case study. Prior to the 2016 season, the right-hander signed a five-year contract for just 38.5 million dollars, including a club option for a sixth year. That deal takes him through the 2021 campaign if the option is exercised. Of course, he’s now a member of the Texas Rangers after this winter’s trade, however, that signing turned out incredibly well for Shapiro and his team. He was injured for almost all of last season, but from 2016-18 Kluber was a 3x All-Star, he won the 2017 AL Cy Young Award (and finished 3rd in 2016 and 2018), earning 19.8 bWAR over that span. Cleveland also traded him before his back-loaded deal really ramped up, as he earned just 7.5 million during his Cy Young campaign.
The reality is, the Blue Jays will only have so much control over whether they can sign their young stars to a deal like this. Ideally, both the player and the club would have a risk-reward scenario, which was described by Shapiro in an article published yesterday by Jordan Horrobin of Sportsnet.
"“You’re looking for that sweet spot,” Shapiro said in reference to which players and teams fit the contract type. “Where both are comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Both are comfortable sharing that risk.”"
It remains to be seen whether Guerrero Jr. or Bichette are interested in such an agreement, or if the Blue Jays would extend the net to others like Biggio, or even someone like Nate Pearson. At this early stage of their careers, they may elect to see what kind of value they can generate in their first season or two, even if it means they could make more money in the short term. The trade off, of course, would be either the Blue Jays buying out one or two of their future free agent years, and/or getting a bargain in their arbitration eligible seasons.
The good news is that there is no major urgency to get a contract like this done, even if the longer it takes, the more expensive the players could become. It’s also good to hear that Shapiro is open to the idea, and hopefully that means there could be traction on something like this over the next year or two. We’ll certainly keep you posted here at Jays Journal if there are any further developments in the next little while.