As stars across baseball sign long-term extensions in their early-mid 20’s, the Blue Jays could benefit from the patience of the front office.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there have already been efforts and long discussions had with the agents for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette about the possibility of a career-defining contract extension, but so far nothing has been overly close, at least as far as what we’ve heard in the public. Typically that wouldn’t be all that surprising when both players have four years before they’ll become free agents, but the game is changing in a hurry and I’m sure the front office is starting to feel the pressure to a certain extent.
I say that because several teams across the game have locked up their young stars. The Rays were the latest when they handed 20 year old Wander Franco a mega-contract that could turn into up to 12 years and 223 million. This comes after other huge deals for young stars like Fernando Tatis Jr. in San Diego, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert in Chicago, and to a lesser extent, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies in Atlanta. It makes sense why Blue Jays fans are already talking about the long-term futures for Guerrero Jr. and Bichette.
That said, I can’t help but wonder if patience is going to turn out to be a win of sorts for the Blue Jays. I say that because MLB is on the cusp of a possible work stoppage as they work out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and one of the major issues on the table is the way that players are compensated.
That argument will come down to multiple factors, including service time manipulation of young players (cough, like what happened to Vlad Jr.), the way young stars are compensated, and even when players could be eligible for free agency. It’s really hard to predict how that will all work out, but there are a few ideas that have already been thrown around, such as a universal free agent age of 29.5, or tying a player’s earning potential to their WAR value. I doubt either of those ideas will come to fruition, but there could be some variation of one of both in order to come to a new agreement.
It remains to be seen how the negotiations will go between the league and the Player’s Association, but it’s highly likely that the terms of the next deal will impact the Blue Jays in a significant way. Both born in March, Vlad Jr. will turn 23 in 2022, and Bichette will be 24 just 11 days ahead of his long-time teammate. As I mentioned before, both will have four seasons before they’ll be eligible for free agency under the current CBA, and there’s a pretty good chance that the situation could be altered by the time next season gets underway.
Not that I’m at all rooting for the ownership side in CBA discussions, but I’m hoping that the terms of the next deal will provide more incentive for the two young Blue Jays stars to sign for the long-term, and hopefully on a shorter deal than the 12 years that the Rays just committed to Franco, or the 13 the Padres signed up for with Tatis Jr. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have both Vlad Jr. and Bichette in a Blue Jays uniform for 12-13 years, but a contract of that length comes with a ton of risk. As we witnessed with the multiple shoulder injuries that Tatis Jr. sustained in 2021, even young stars can hit the Injured List with regularity. I’m not suggesting that I think Tatis Jr’s contract will turn out to be a bust, but I’m sure the Padres’ front office was extremely nervous when he hit the IL for the second time this season, and that concern showed when they moved him from shortstop to the outfield in order to protect his body.
Having said all of this, I’ll acknowledge that it’s entirely possible that a new CBA could work against the Blue Jays here as well. In a worst case scenario they could lose a year of contract control for their core building blocks, or worse. I have a hard time seeing the owners concede something that important, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility either.
At this point all we can do is wait and see what happens with the next CBA, and it might be a few months before we know the final details. My hope is that when things are all said and done, the regular season will start on time, the work stoppage won’t take very long (I live for free agency rumours just as much as the next person), and in a perfect world, hopefully the Blue Jays will have an easier time locking up their foundational stars.