It was announced yesterday that the Toronto Blue Jays AL East rivals down in Tampa had agreed on a 11-year extension with prospect Wander Franco worth over $182 million dollars. The contract essentially buys out all of Franco’s pre-arbitration and arbitration years as well as multiple years of free agency, keeping him on the roster until he is at least 32 years old.
The Rays shortstop was one of the top prospects in all of baseball these past couple seasons and the small-market franchise decided to lock him up for the long term, hoping that his 2021 debut where he posted a .288/.347/.463 with a .810 OPS and seven home runs was a sign of good things to come. Franco isn’t the only player to receive a long-term contract early into his Major League career, as the San Diego Padres locked up superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year contract worth over $340 million last offseason.
The Blue Jays find themselves in a somewhat similar scenario, considering the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Teoscar Hernandez are all inching towards free agency and in line for big raises. Hernandez is in his second year of arbitration while Guerrero Jr. is entering his first year with Bichette still has one year left before he enters the fold as well. After the MVP caliber season he put up, it is likely that Guerrero Jr. will also be commanding a long-term contract that rivals Tatis Jr. and hits over the $300 million mark, especially if he can continue to play at the same high level moving forward.
Factor in that the Blue Jays also have breakout pitcher Alek Manoah entering his sophomore campaign and top prospect Gabriel Moreno most likely making his debut sometime next season, one wonders if the organization could follow the Padres and Rays and start to lock up their talented young players for long term contracts sooner rather than later.
The Blue Jays have already dipped their toes in the extension waters this offseason, inking starter Jose Berrios to a seven-year pact worth $131 million and securing him during his prime years. This was a pretty big move for the franchise considering the club gave up two top prospects to bring him to Toronto with the hopes of extending him before he reached free agency next year.
The Tampa Bay Rays locked up super prospect Wander Franco to a long-term deal, raising the question as to whether the Blue Jays will follow suit with any of their young core.
The two biggest names that fans and the front office would look to extend are most likely Bichette and Guerrero, as both players are pretty integral parts of the Blue Jays core and batting order moving forward. If Manoah can prove that his stellar rookie campaign was not a fluke and continues to impress this season, he too could enter the picture of a long-term contract candidate that provides the player with guaranteed money and the organization with a strong player who is under contract during their free-agent years. Moreno may not have the same hype as Franco but considering the catcher impressed during this past season and during the Arizona Fall League in October/November, a strong 2022 debut can open some extension doors if the club wants to get a bit risky.
These types of deals do always have the chance to backfire, with a prime example being the Philadelphia Phillies and their pact with prospect Scott Kingery, albeit for a lot less money than what Tatis Jr. or Franco received. I would be comfortable putting down a pretty sizeable bet that Guerrero Jr. and Bichette would most likely live up to the expectations of a long-term contract and the bigger question revolves around whether the organization can afford or wants to have multiple large contracts on the payroll.
Let me rephrase that. Rogers can most likely afford to have multiple larger-than-life contracts, but will they give the front office the backing to do so?
The club has Berrios, George Springer, Randal Grichuk, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. all under contract next season and hitting the books for roughly $75 million in adjusted salary, and that is without incorporating pre-arb and arbitration players which will most likely drive that number to the $110-120 million mark.
This does leave the club with some wiggle room to either sign or trade this offseason while also giving the front office some leftover funds for some longer-term contracts for roster players as long as they have the financial backing from ownership, which Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro seem pretty confident to have. One could also play in that Ryu, Grichuk, and Gurriel Jr. will be off the books come 2024 and could use some of those funds to invest back into the young core, bolstered by the fact that Springer’s contract is front-loaded and he will be making roughly $5 million less per season starting next year.
The overall answer to the question raised above is, yes, the Blue Jays could most likely offer long-term contracts to some of their young core, it is just whether or not the players themselves want to forego free agency and stay in Toronto or if the club gets enough financial backing to keep the band together. The issue extends more that the longer they wait to do so and the better each player gets and gains more experience, the higher the price tag is going to be, something the Blue Jays may want to consider tackling sooner rather than later.