Vladimir Guerrero Jr. may want to return to third base in 2021, but there’s a strong argument that it’s a bad idea for both him and the Blue Jays.
Over the past week, recent reports revealed that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has lost 12 pounds since the end of the season, and upwards of 30 in total over the last few months. In a recent interview with Yancen Pujols, Vladdy suggested that he is ready to play 3B again, “I played first base this year, but next year third base is mine”.
Although the 21 year old looks to be in much better shape than he was season’s past, a lot more than weight goes into the ability to make tough plays at 3B. It is a great start to improve his fitness, and it should even help with offensive measures such as bad speed, however, this all must be taken with a grain of salt.
Many fans on social media are thrilled about this idea of bringing Guerrero back to 3B but I’m going to take the controversial stance and say that by moving the former #1 prospect back over to third, it will not only make the current roster worse defensively, but it will also limit the pathways that Toronto can take on the open market during this offseason. Don’t get me wrong, I am very bullish on Guerrero Jr. and his potential, but defence didn’t get him to the majors, his lightning-fast bat speed did, and he needs to be put in a position where he can maximize his offensive potential. I am going to use two talking points to prove why this isn’t an attractive idea.
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1.) Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was one of the MLB’s worst defensive third basemen in 2019
If Vladdy was considered to be one of the worst starting 3B defensively in 2019, then it is highly unlikely that weight loss will turn his metrics from bottom of the totem pole to upper tier in MLB, especially after having spent 2020 wholly at 1B/DH. Sure, he will probably improve from his conditioning, but the Jays are in a position where they need to start adding to their team and if Vladdy’s peak is league average or within that realm, then it is not worth it to start shuffling him around. Guerrero Jr. was graded as a #1 overall prospect mainly because of his 80 grade hit tool and insane power. Playing Vladdy at an unanimously tougher position than 1B will only make it harder for him to focus on his strengths.
In 2019, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had -16 OAA at 3B as opposed to a much more favourable -2 OAA at 1B in 2020 (prorated to -4.1 if he played 123 games like he did in the preceding year). The same disparity shows up to varying degrees for advanced metrics like DRS and UZR. There is no point in moving someone to 3B just because they are respected around the organization. Moves should be made in accordance with the goal of winning and it is hard to believe Guerrero Jr. can be anything better than average at third.
Based on the numbers from 2019, it’d be a lot less risky to experiment with Vlad at third in low leverage situations before moving him back into the starting role.
2.) Vlad at 3B limits other great opportunities on the open market
Moving Vlad to third base makes one thing certain: there will be less versatility in the depth chart and that certainly doesn’t fit the bill for the apparent plans of this coaching staff and front office. If Vlad was playing third most days, that would make it much more difficult to pick up FA and trade candidates like Justin Turner, DJ LeMahieu, or Nolan Arenado.
Third base is one of the most stacked positions in the league offensively and looking at this particular situation through the lens of value maximization, it contributes a lot more value to use a strong offensive in-house player at the weaker offensive position. The reasoning for this is because by leaving 3B vacant for the offseason, it opens up an opportunity to lock up a top notch acquisition on the open market at a position where some free agents have a much stronger offensive prowess. This kills two birds with one stone, whereas leaving Vladdy at 3B would present weaker viable options on the open market.
3B trade/free agent candidates include DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado and Justin Turner while the market for 1B is weak in the 2021 class. The only top 20 first basemen on MLB Trade Rumors free agent rankings list are DJ LeMahieu, who has played 1B less frequently than any other position, and JT Realmuto, who is mostly a catcher and only a 1B to get him in the lineup on days off from catching.
Given that the Jays intend to add significantly to the team this offseason, it may be best to stick to status quo and leave Vlad at 1B (perhaps test him at 3B on an experimental basis) and try to lock up a free agent at 3B.
No matter what the Jays end up deciding to do with Guerrero Jr. positionally, they still intend to add to this team in the winter and that alone will help this team win ball games. During Saturday afternoon, the Jays were the first to sign a free agent, inking a 1 year, $8 million deal with Robbie Ray. This quick movement by the Jays should be a sign of more to come in the next month or two. By then, there should be more clarity on whether or not Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will actually play third base.