Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has publicly stated that he is open to signing long-term with the Blue Jays, but it’s not going to be as easy as it sounds. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that I don’t think we’ll see an extension over the 2022-23 offseason, even if both parties are interested in such a thing.
Let me be clear that I’m definitely not against the idea, and if I’m in the Blue Jays front office I would be especially interested in getting a deal done sooner than later. The 24 year old has three years of arbitration eligibility left before he’ll hit free agency, and he’s going to get more expensive through that process even if a long-term deal can’t be reached. He made 7.9 million in 2022, and while he won’t bring the same leverage to the table as he did last winter, he’s still added another All-Star appearance to his resume, and has continued to be an above-average hitter even during a down season.
One way or another his salary will increase through arbitration, but there’s also a very good chance that the asking price will continue to rise for a long-term deal the closer we get to his future free agency. One of the biggest reasons that teams have been locking up their pre-arbitration stars to long-term contracts is to try and get ahead of massive future contracts by betting on them early. Teams like the Atlanta Braves have really benefitted from this strategy with players like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, and they’ve continued the practice as recently as this year by locking up Michael Taylor II for the foreseeable future as well. On the flip side, I wonder if there’s some buyer’s regret for the Padres over the 14-year, 340 million dollar pact with Fernando Tatis Jr. that hasn’t started off so well thanks to injuries, and now an 80-game suspension that will bleed into next season. Tatis Jr. still has plenty of time to change his story in San Diego, but so far he’s also an example of a cautionary tale about early long-term deals.
The Blue Jays have already missed the pre-arbitration window for Guerrero Jr., but there’s still enough time left before his future free agency date to still try and get a bit of a discount. The key word there though is “try’, as the son of a Hall of Famer’s camp is likely looking at the situation through a different lens. A deal now would buy out his last three years of arbitration eligibility, and probably make the slugger a career Blue Jay, which is no small thing. That said, it’s going to take a major financial commitment in order to get him to sign up for that.
That brings us to why I’m not betting on a deal being reached this winter. While I believe that there’s an appetite from both parties to try and work out a long-term pact, I think it’s going to be very difficult to figure out a price point. Even if the two parties could agree on a term of say, 10 years, what kind of annual average value for that deal would work for both sides?
That’s not an easy question to answer, and that’s especially the case after Guerrero Jr. has taken a step back from the kind of production he provided last year. He finished the 2021 campaign as the 2nd place finisher in AL MVP voting, and with good cause after slashing .311/.401/.601 with 47 home runs and 111 RBI. It was a ridiculously high bar to set as a 23 year old, and unfortunately he hasn’t been able to reach the same heights this year. I’m not at all suggesting that he won’t again in the future, and you can count me another the believers that we’ve yet to see the very best of a generational talent, but his performance this year does change the conversation a bit, at least at the negotiating table.
After Saturday’s game against the Orioles he was slashing .281/.346/.490 with 29 home runs, 34 doubles, and 85 RBI with 15 games left to play in the regular season. Those are solid numbers, but are they enough for the Blue Jays to commit something like 300-400 million to a decade long contract? I’m honestly not sure, even if that sounds crazy to say. The reality is, you can find a veteran first baseman capable of hitting .280 and hitting 30 home runs for a lot cheaper, and on a much shorter term. In order to be viewed in the truly elite tier of MLB players, especially as a first baseman, last year’s numbers would have helped Guerrero Jr’s camp a lot more in negotiations.
Having said all of this, I’m still a believer that eventually Vlad Jr. will end up signing a long-term contract to be a career Blue Jay, and I’m also cheering for that resolution. I just think that in order for the two sides to work out a deal, Guerrero Jr. arguably needs to be coming off of a better season. That would give his side the feeling that they’re negotiating from a position of strength, and hopefully would be enough to pass on the chance to wait another year to try to raise the price tag, or even get closer to free agency. From the Blue Jays side, it would give them greater piece of mind that they’re building another an MVP calibre player for the long-term, which is important for a contract like this.
Of course, if the Blue Jays can make the playoffs and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. can add some playoff glory to his growing resume, that could impact the chances of a deal being reached as well. A lot could change over the next few weeks, and hopefully months, but right now I’m not holding my breath for an offseason extension. For the moment, there are way better things to focus on, and I’m sure everybody can agree on that for now.