As younger stars are signing extensions more regularly, the Blue Jays may want to pay attention to what happens with Fernando Tatis Jr’s contract this week.
There was a time when MLB players did their best to get to free agency as quickly as they could, and then would often cash in with the highest biddder. In theory, that’s how free agency should work, but the landscape has changed a fair bit over the last few years.
One of changes that’s becoming more common is to see young potential superstars signing long-term extensions well before there is any urgency to get a deal done. We saw the Braves use this strategy with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, the White Sox with Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, and the trend seems to be continuing. The latest rumour has the Padres discussing a mega-deal with their young star Fernando Tatis Jr., and that makes a lot of sense that they’d want to lock him up. It’s also a situation the Blue Jays need to pay close attention to.
Right now I don’t know that the Blue Jays have a star quite on Tatis Jr’s level, but a lot can change in a year or two. To that end, I think it’s entirely possible and maybe even likely that the Blue Jays could start initiating these kind of discussions with some emerging stars as their own. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will need to meet the lofty expectations he entered the league with before those talks would ever begin, but I expect a big year from him in 2021, and the eye rolls to stop about his future. A more immediate concern might be Bo Bichette, who has played at an All-Star over his first 75 MLB games, and has likely passed Vlad Jr. on the priority list for now.
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While I’d like to see the Blue Jays lock up some of their young core, I’m more than okay with them waiting another year to do so. Bichette has only played 75 games so far, which is a pretty small sample size, even if he’s been magnificent as a big leaguer. By comparison, Tatis Jr. has played 143 games at the highest level, and has arguably proven himself as more of a sure thing. That said, a year from now Bichette may very well have increased his stock even more, especially if he can stay healthy and play 150 or more games. As for Vlad Jr., he has a lot to prove before the Blue Jays will even entertain the idea.
The higher priority for the moment is finding outside reinforcements ahead of the 2021 campaign, and that also makes sense. However, keeping an eye on Tatis Jr’s situation is going to be important as well and it might change the extension market for young players forever. What I mean by that is that it’s being reported that his camp and the Padres are discussing a deal of 11 years and over 300 million. When you compare that to the eight years/100 million Acuna Jr. received, or the six-year contracts for Jimenez (43 million) and Robert (50 million), that market will change for good.
That doesn’t mean that the Blue Jays are going to have to hand Bichette 300 million to get him to agree to an extension, but you can bet that if Tatis signs a deal in that stratosphere that it will change what Bichette’s camp feels it can ask for. You could make a strong argument that the early extensions signed by Acuna Jr., Albies, Jimenez, and Robert were all an underpay, and came with minimal risk for the team. While I’m confident the the Padres feel good about committing to Tatis Jr., there’s no discount to be had based on the rumours we’re hearing. In fact, I’d argue they’re almost negotiating as if he’s a free agent right now.
In the end, what happens with Tatis Jr. is going to be relevant to the Blue Jays at some point. It might mean that they’ll have to pay a lot more to keep someone like Bichette or Vlad Jr. around beyond their arbitration years, or maybe it means they’ll forget the idea of an extension all together. One way or another, it’s a situation worth keeping tabs on.