The Blue Jays have a chance to add some significant pieces this offseason, but their best available upgrade might already be on the roster.
Like many baseball fans, I spend far too much time thinking about possible lineups and configurations for my favourite team, which in this case is obviously the Blue Jays.
As the rumour mill has churned so far, it’s hard not to think about what a lineup could look like with an addition like Francisco Lindor, George Springer, or J.T. Realmuto. That’s part of the fun of the offseason, and with the Blue Jays in a strong position in the end stages of their rebuild, they should be serious players for some big names. That said, there’s a chance that the best available upgrade they could make this offseason is to have one of their own reach his potential.
It’s been widely reported that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been working hard to get himself into better shape this winter, and it looks like he’s made significant progress. That’s important, because even the 21-year-old has openly discussed that his conditioning has led to some of his struggles. It’s not as if he’s been bad, as he’s posted a slash line of .269/.336/.442 with 24 home runs, 39 doubles, and 102 RBI over his first 183 games, it’s just he hasn’t come close to reaching the hype that he arrived in the big leagues with.
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That hype was warranted, as Guerrero Jr. absolutely assaulted minor league pitching as a teenager, and had fans and baseball writers clamouring for his MLB debut when he was still just 19 years old. He was that good, and there was a time that he was understandably ranked higher than the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. on prospect lists. That’s obviously not how things have worked out thus far.
That said, let’s keep in mind that this is a 21-year-old kid, and with no disrespect intended, it shouldn’t shock us that he’s learned a few lessons on the fly at the highest level. Not many reach the big leagues at his age, as it takes a special kind of talent to pull off such a feat. That’s the type of talent that still lives in the bat of Vlad Jr., and it’s encouraging to see that he’s committed to his fitness and to having a big season in 2021.
As I’ve looked at recent photos of his workouts, I’ve found myself not only getting excited about the potential, but also realizing that his stock had fallen a bit, at least in my eyes. When I dreamed about the lineup in 2021 and beyond, adding a talent like Lindor usually knocked Vlad Jr. somewhere around the 5th or 6th spot in my fantasy lineup. For the sake of a visual, it would look something like this:
1- Biggio (3B)
2- Bichette (2B)
3- Lindor (SS)
4- Hernandez (RF)
5- Vlad Jr. (1B)
6- Tellez (DH)
7- Gurriel Jr. (LF)
8- Grichuk (CF)
9- Jansen (C)
There could be a number of different lineup configurations with this group, but you could also strongly argue in favour of swapping Gurriel Jr. and young Vlad, dropping him down to 7th. Wherever he lands, the point is that he’s not an obvious top-4 hitter, even without an addition like Lindor. Having said that, I don’t think many would argue that the best version of Guerrero Jr. would be hitting smack dab in the middle of the lineup, where he should belong.
I’m not suggesting that he’s going to catch up to Acuna Jr. or Tatis Jr. with one offseason of hard work, but let’s also remember that we’re not starting from scratch here either. I would characterize Guerrero Jr’s performance as “Average-Good” so far (3.0 oWAR according to Baseball Reference), and there’s all the potential in the world for him to jump into the “Great” category. The talent is there, but so far it’s been more of a question of learning what it takes to succeed at this level, and putting in the work. That, and gaining some much-needed experience against the very best in the world.
It appears that Vlad Jr. has learned that lesson, at least based on what we’re seeing on social media thus far. That makes me excited to see him back on the diamond in 2021, and his transformation could lead to the best upgrade they make all winter.