They may have more immediate priorities, but the Blue Jays would be wise to try and sign Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to an extension this offseason if he and his agent are willing to negotiate.
The greatest motivation for a move like that would be to lock up a generational talent and make sure that he stays in a Blue Jays uniform for a very long time. At just 22 years old he has an extremely bright future ahead of him, and chances are he still hasn’t come close to reaching his full potential. That’s a scary thought after watching him post MVP-calibre numbers in the batter’s box this year.
It was the unofficial arrival of Vlad Jr. as a bonafide star, and seemingly the end of the questions about whether he can be a franchise talent at the highest level. Now that the important question has been answered, the Jays can get truly serious about trying to build their future around the loveable Canadian-born slugger.
There are two ways that the Blue Jays could approach this type of situation. The first would be to seek a career-defining contract like the one the Padres handed to Fernando Tatis Jr. for 14 years and 330 million dollars. Tatis Jr. received that contract not long after his 22nd birthday, and it will take him through his age 36 season. I’m not sure if that kind of thing would interest Guerrero Jr. or the Blue Jays, but it’s one precedent that’s been recently set for a premium young star.
The other route might be to opt for a shorter deal, which could make sense for both parties. For example, Vlad Jr. will turn 23 just before the start of next season, so what about something like a seven-year contract? He has four years of arbitration eligibility remaining before he could become a free agent, so a seven-year deal would buy those four out while adding three more at the end, and he’d still be a free agent again before turning 30.
Speaking of arbitration, that’s one part of the equation that the Blue Jays should seriously consider as they look to the future. Even if Vlad Jr. will still be a relative bargain for the next season or two, he’s going to get a lot more expensive in a hurry. MLBtraderumors.com has him projected for a first-year arbitration salary of 7.9 million for the 2022 season, which is on the high end for first timers through the process, but shy of the record set by Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers in 2020 with 11.5 million.
Contracts are a complicated thing to figure out, but I think it’s safe to say that Guerrero Jr. could push for the second-year arbitration record if he has another MVP-calibre season in 2022, and do the same thing again during his third and fourth time through the process. The record for the most paid for a player through their last arbitration year is Mookie Betts when he got 27 million for the 2020 campaign (which, unfortunately for Betts, was pro-rated due to the shortened season), and chances are that record will be closer to 30 million by the time four years pass and Guerrero Jr could reach that point.
For the sake of the most simple-minded, variable-disregarding visual I can come up with, here’s a very rough schedule of what Vlad Jr’s salary could look like through the arbitration process as long as he continues to blossom into a star.
2022: 7.9 million
2023: 15 million
2024: 23 million
2025: 30 million
Total: 75.9 million
Again, that is an incredibly simplistic way to project his salary over the next four seasons, but it’s not hard to see how it could wind up being 70-80 million. With that in mind the Blue Jays have to be motivated try and get some kind of savings while they still can, before he gets closer to free agency.
For the sake of going back to the comparison with Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padre superstar’s huge contract nets him an average annual salary of approximately 23.6 million per season over the life of the deal. Vlad Jr. won’t make that much if he continues through the arbitration process, so there is some incentive for him to consider an earlier extension as well.
I can’t help but wonder if adding three more years on the back end at 30 million a piece wouldn’t get the job done. That would take the total to 165.9 million over seven years, with an AAV of 23.7 million that would put him a sliver ahead of his phenom counterpart from the National League. The Blue Jays would get major wins by giving themselves some cost certainty, and locking up a franchise face for at least seven years, and might even be able to offer a little bit less than that. Guerrero Jr. wins by locking in a fat raise, and setting himself up to become a free agent again before he hits 30 years old.
I’m not suggesting that this is going to happen, or at that either party would be interested in the scenario I’ve just laid out. That said, when I look at Vlad Jr’s projected arbitration salary for this season, knowing full well that the figure is going to keep climbing, it makes all the sense in the world that the Blue Jays should pursue a long-term deal of some kind. My guess is that the front office has a few other immediate priorities, but I’m confident that they’ve at least approached Guerrero Jr. and his representatives with the idea.