Blue Jays: Another way to look at extensions for their young stars

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 17: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 and Bo Bichette #11 of the Toronto Blue Jays talk during batting practice of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 17: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 and Bo Bichette #11 of the Toronto Blue Jays talk during batting practice of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays will surely try to extend their young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette at some point, and there’s more than one way to do it.

It’s a topic we’ve discussed a fair bit here at Jays Journal over the last couple of years, and especially this offseason, even though it’s far from an immediate problem. Both young stars have at least four years of contract control remaining before they’ll hit the free agent market, so the Blue Jays know they have a nice window of contention to work with even in a worst case scenario. Obviously they’d love to increase that window for as long as they can, and that likely means looking for long-term extensions for their two franchise cornerstones.

Sportnet’s Shi Davidi published an excellent piece on the subject over the weekend talking about the challenges the Blue Jays could face locking down the dynamic duo, and all the variables that could be involved in the process. It won’t be an easy thing to accomplish, especially after the contracts signed by the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wander Franco over the last year, forever changing the market for young stars.

Tatis Jr. and Franco’s contracts will certainly factor into any discussions the Blue Jays might have with Guerrero Jr. and Bichette, if for no other reason rather establishing some sort of floor and ceiling to their next deal. For what it’s worth, Tatis Jr’s contract will pay him 330 million over 14 years, while Franco’s is for 11 seasons and at least 182 million, and could jump buy more than 40 million with incentives and escalators.

Davidi’s piece does a great job of breaking down why there are significant comparisons to the situations, and also shows that Bichette could be on a similar trajectory to Corey Seager as a top shortstop in the game. Of course, Seager just signed a 10 year, 325 million dollar contract with the Rangers this offseason, so that’s not great news if the Blue Jays are looking to save some payroll space. The concept of saving money is largely the biggest motivator for teams to lock up their young stars, beyond just keeping that talent in the organization for the long haul. It’s why the Blue Jays will likely start to intensify their efforts to extend Guerrero Jr. and Bichette now rather than later, even with four years of contract control left for both players.

In my mind the ideal scenario would see the Jays signed both players to 10-year extensions before the 2022 season begins. I don’t expect that to happen by any means, but with Guerrero Jr. turning 23 in March and Bichette 24 in the same month, you’d really be buying their prime years. That said, I’m willing to bet that their agents would be more interested in a longer term contract, perhaps even as long as the 14 years that Tatis Jr. secured with the Padres. In that case, Bichette would be 38 by the the time the contract was over.

It’ll be a dance between the Blue Jays and the player agents, but I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t another solution that could work for both sides. Instead of talking about a 10-14 year contract, why not shrink that window a bit and discuss something like 6-8 years. For the sake of simplicity in my explanation, let’s go with seven year extensions for each player.

In that case that could take the duo to their player 30 and 31 seasons, and still with plenty of time to secure another big-dollar contract before their MLB careers are over. I realize the game has trended in a younger direction over the last few years, but look no further than the seven-year, 175 million dollar contract that Marcus Semien received this offseason as a 31 year old to understand that you’re far from done with earning potential at that age as long as you’re still producing at a premium.

For the Blue Jays, the idea of a seven-year contract actually works pretty well as far as their current window of contention is concerned. They have Jose Berrios under contract for seven more seasons after his own extension this offseason, and five more years from George Springer and the newly inked Kevin Gausman. The club has already made significant investments into that timeframe, and while it would be great to have Guerrero Jr. and Bichette around beyond then, focusing on a defined period could make some sense if the right contracts can be hammered out.

The complicating factor would be finding agreeable compensation over a seven-year deal rather than a 14 year contract. For example, the Padres are still getting incredible value on Tatis Jr’s low salary these days, as he made just one million for 2021, and will earn five million in 2022. That will escalate over the life of his deal, peaking at a value of 36 million per year over the last six seasons of his contract, and over the total of the 14 seasons, Tatis Jr’s average annual salary will be just shy of 24.3 million.

If the Blue Jays were to work out something like a seven-year contract with their dynamic duo, I would think the AAV would have to be higher than 24 million. That gives you less incentive to sign the player without the same level of savings, but this is a unique situation where you could have two players looking for mega-contracts, and a team that wants to keep them both. To that end, I think the Jays will have to be creative, and this could be a solution.

Davidi’s piece offers some pretty good context as far as Guerrero Jr’s earning potential over the next few seasons, and might give us a ballpark idea of how much money it could take to get him to agree to an extension:

"(because of his Super-Two status) “Guerrero is positioned to out-earn Tatis through their third through sixth service-time seasons. With a projected salary of $8 million in 2022, he’d very conservatively platform to $12 million, $16 million and $20 million over the next three years for an estimated total of $56 million — roughly double the $27 million Tatis is slated to earn over the same span.”"

After reading that, we know that Guerrero Jr. has less incentive to pass some savings on to the Blue Jays unless they’re securing more than four years of his services. Davidi’s conservative projection would give him an AAV of 14 million over the next four years, and that figure out be much lower for Bichette, who is not in the same “Super-Two” situation as young Vlad and won’t get to the arbitration process until after the 2022 campaign.

We have to keep in mind that once Guerrero Jr. hits the open market he could be making top dollar as long as he continues to blossom into one of the best hitters in baseball. Ignoring Max Scherzer’s gargantuan contract that he signed to finish off his career, the top earners in MLB make in the neighbourhood of 35 million per year. I don’t think it’s out of the question that Guerrero Jr. could be offered that kind of figure as a free agent.

So if we’re doing some simple math here, let’s use Davidi’s numbers and then add three more years as a free agent on the end. That gives us 161 million over seven years (56 million plus 105 million more for the last three years), and an AAV of 23 million. As I already said, I don’t think you’re going to get a shorter contract with Guerrero Jr. or even Bichette for less than Tatis Jr. makes on his AAV, which is 24.3 million. That means we’re likely talking about at least 25 million per season for Bichette, and probably a little more for Guerrero Jr. Again, by the roughest of calculations that could mean somewhere in the ballpark of seven years and 175 million for Bichette, and maybe 190-200 million for Vlad Jr.

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Would that make sense for the Blue Jays, or for Guerrero Jr. and Bichette? It’s hard to say, and I’ll admit that I’d prefer to see a longer term in both cases. However, because the Blue Jays are looking at such a difficult task when it comes to signing two young stars to extensions at the same time, I think they have to keep their options open. If that means a shorter contract for both in the range of 6-8 years, I think it’s something the Blue Jays should strongly consider, and there might be enough of an upside to get both players to sign up as well.