Toronto Blue Jays: An offseason checklist for Ross Atkins
Last but not least
Once Atkins and the front office have made a few trades, and hopefully shored up the pitching staff in the process, there’s one last thing they should be serious about this winter, and that’s locking up some of their premium young talent for the long term. That list could include Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, or even Alek Manoah.
After a second place finish in AL MVP voting in 2021, Guerrero Jr. looked like he might be heading for a record contract for a big league first baseman, but unfortunately he took a bit of a step back this year. It’s not as if he was bad by any means, earning another All-Star appearance for his resume while hitting 32 home runs, but he wasn’t the same dominant hitter we saw a year before. For that reason, I personally think it’ll be hard for the Blue Jays and Vlad Jr’s camp to figure out a contract that works for everyone, but it does sound like there’s an appetite to work out an extension.
As for Bichette, the 24 year old had a bit of an up and down 2022 campaign, but he finished the year absolutely on fire and reminded baseball that he’s one of the most talented hitters in the world while leading the AL in hits for the second straight season. The jury is still out on whether Bichette can be an above-average shortstop at some point in his career, but there’s no question about what he can bring to the table with a bat in his hands.
Lastly, I’m not sure that I expect the Blue Jays to engage with Manoah on a long-term deal this winter, as that’s a lot less frequent with young pitchers. That said, Manoah proved himself as one of the very best young starters in baseball this year, and he gives the pitching staff a legitimate ace both now and in the future. It might not be the decade-long contract that some of the other young stars in baseball have been signing, but this could be a scenario where the Blue Jays buy out a free agent year or two in exchange for locking Manoah up to a new contract. The Atlanta Braves recently made a move like this with their rookie sensation in Spencer Strider, and it might not be a bad idea for the Blue Jays to make a similar offer.
I don’t expect that the Blue Jays are going to sign all three players to extensions, as that might not be something their payroll ever allows them to do depending on what else they do over the winter. However, I would like to see the front office take a step toward giving this roster a long-term face, and that likely belongs to Guerrero Jr. at least to start with.
So to recap, the list of needs really hasn’t changed all that much from what we’ve been talking about for the last few years. Address the rotation by bringing in at least one starter, especially if they can’t keep Stripling around, find some more “swing and miss” for the bullpen, and hopefully add a high-end left-handed bat to bring some balance to the lineup, while likely trading some valuable players in the process. No pressure or anything.