Blue Jays: Have any young players earned an extension yet?

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 11: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27, Bo Bichette #11 and Cavan Biggio #8 of the Toronto Blue Jays stand at second base as they wait for a reviewed call during their MLB game against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre on September 11, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 11: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27, Bo Bichette #11 and Cavan Biggio #8 of the Toronto Blue Jays stand at second base as they wait for a reviewed call during their MLB game against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre on September 11, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /
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It’s been a trend for MLB teams to sign young stars to long-term extensions in recent years, and it’s an option for the Blue Jays to entertain as well.

It should be an interesting off-season ahead for the Blue Jays, especially after what could be viewed as a pleasant surprise with their making the post-season this year. Yes, the playoff format was expanded, but they went from a 67-win team (.414 winning percentage) to 32-28 (.533), making a significant jump in their rebuild.

While there will be plenty of focus on the areas of need and the potential free agents or trade targets that could fill them, that’s not the only consideration on Ross Atkins’ plate this winter. The front office will need to address the starting rotation, the bullpen, and maybe third base as well, but they may be thinking a little further ahead than just what the team needs in 2020. With that in mind, are there any budding young stars in line for a long-term extension this off-season?

It’s a trend we’ve seen a fair bit over the last few years, and my guess is that it’s going to work out in favour of the organization in most cases. Whether it was club-friendly deals for guys like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies in Atlanta, or the contracts handed to Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert by the White Sox, there’s an argument the Blue Jays should consider the same with some of their young core players.

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Who would that be? In my mind there are five youthful Blue Jays who fit a similar mold, although none of them were signed before their debuts like the White Sox pulled off. I suppose it’s possible the Blue Jays could try something like that with Austin Martin, their first-round pick from 2020, but my guess is they’ll focus on the players that have already made their MLB debuts first. For me that list includes Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Nate Pearson. You could probably include Teoscar Hernandez as well, but at 27 years old and entering into arbitration, let’s keep him separate for now.

As for the five I’ve listed, they’re all in very different scenarios. I’ll start with Gurriel Jr., who won’t be getting an extension this off-season. Why? Because the Blue Jays signed him to a creative and savvy contract (Spotrac.com) back in 2016 that will pay him 3.5 million in 2021, 4.5 million in 2022, and 5.4 million in 2023 before he’s arbitration eligible in 2024, and a free agent the following year. Based on the way he’s produced so far, the Blue Jays are set to get a massive bargain, and there’s not much reason to tinker with it.

When it comes to Vlad Jr., I sincerely doubt that the organization is ready to reward him with a long-term deal. That’s not to suggest that the Blue Jays no longer believe in the 21-year-old, but his first season and a half at the highest level hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. He’s struggled with fitness at times, had to change positions, and just hasn’t found his groove as a star yet. Unless the Blue Jays are looking to score a serious bargain and bank on a turnaround, I don’t see it happening. I would also guess that they’d rather keep him motivated to earn that kind of deal heading into 2021.

As for Nate Pearson, I’d actually be open-minded to locking him up after what I saw this year. Things didn’t go according to the script for Pearson either, who spent time on the Injured List and only made five regular season appearances, but he displayed the kind of talent that should make him an ace some day. It’s always a little scary to bet on a young pitcher who hasn’t established themselves yet, but Pearson could be a rare risk worth taking. That said, I’d be surprised if it happens this winter.

Last but not least, I’ve left the two players that I think the Blue Jays could offer a long-term contract to over the next few months, and that’s Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette. The latter has been extremely impressive when he’s been healthy, as he’s slashed .307/.347/.549 over his first 75 MLB games, breaking records in the process. He’s an intense competitor, a natural leader, and has the type of talent that I’d be more than comfortable with the Blue Jays banking on for the long haul. As for Biggio, frankly, I think he’s just going to keep getting better every year. He didn’t enter the league with as much hype as Vlad or Bo, but he’s been every bit as valuable, or even more so. It might be wise to sign him now before everyone realizes just how good he is. As an added bonus, think of how motivated Vlad Jr. might be if he had to watch his two long-time teammates get locked up before him?

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Of course, it’s possible that the Blue Jays don’t go down this road at all this winter, and that might even be the likely course after a season that saw just a 60-game schedule, and one that didn’t have any ticket revenue. That said, if Atkins and company decide they want to pursue this idea, there’s a good argument to be made to ownership that it could save money over the long-term, and they’ll always listen to that conversation.

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