Early season performances from key Blue Jays may make extension decisions easier

Toronto Blue Jays v Pittsburgh Pirates
Toronto Blue Jays v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays are approaching the quarter-mark of the 2023 season and have had some encouraging and disappointing starts from some of their most important players. 

While there's a long way to go, it’s an appropriate time to consider how the early returns might affect future contract extensions.

Here are some performances that have strengthened or weakened the cases of notable extension candidates.

Strengthened their case - Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is undoubtedly the Blue Jays’ main priority in terms of offering a long-term deal. 

Although he’s yet to go on one of his patented hot streaks, the 24-year-old has been steady at the plate with a .915 OPS. His seven home runs seem a tad low for this point of the campaign, but a homer barrage when the season heats up seems inevitable. 

Vlad’s defensive metrics aren’t great, he's made some sterling plays and did win his first Gold Glove award last year. 

Guerrero is a proven star in the majors; his performance over the last six weeks has reaffirmed that and should behoove the Jays to lock him up for the next decade or so.

Strengthened their case - Bo Bichette

During the offseason, Bo Bichette agreed to a three-year, $33.6M contract that will take him through his arbitration years. 

That peace of mind has allowed the young star to focus on his craft which has been remarkable through the first 40 games. Bichette has an MLB-high 54 hits and is second in the American League with a .320 average.

The 25-year-old shortstop has a team-high eight home runs and 26 RBI, while his .879 OPS ranks 12th in the AL. 

Bo’s defense is more of a work in progress. He’s worked hard to improve that facet of his game, and his four errors have him on pace to significantly trim last season’s total of 23. 

With advanced defensive metrics, there are three main stats to consider; Outs Above Average (OAA), Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), and Defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR). According to baseball savant, Bichette has zero OAA, tied for 18th in MLB among shortstops.

Fielding Bible has him at -2 DRS, which is 29th positionally among players with a minimum of 100 innings logged. His 0.1 dWAR is only slightly above average. 

It all adds up to a player who’s average or worse defensively, for now, but also one that is finally being recognized as one of the best hitters in the sport. As comforting as the bridge deal was, Bo’s hot start has proven to the front office that he needs to be a vital cog for the next several years. 

Work to do - Alek Manoah

Entering this season, Alek Manoah was viewed as the ace of the staff and a pitcher the Jays could build around for the long term.

After an uneven spring, the West Virginia product was named the Opening Day starter. The struggles for him on the mound started to materialize immediately.

He failed to get out of the fourth inning in that first game and hasn’t finished five frames in four of his eight starts, something he did only four times in his previous 51 starts before this year, all those occurrences happening in 2021, his rookie year.

His batting average against is up considerably, .265 from just .202 last season. More telling is his decreased strikeout percentage (16.8, down from 22.9 in 2022 and 27.7 in ’21), increased walk rate (13.1% compared to 6.5% in 2022), and hard-hit percentage (42.3, 10% higher than ’21 or ’22) that show a pitcher who hasn’t found his consistency this year.

The eye test suggests that the pitch clock is throwing Manoah’s rhythm off, although he’s had two seven-inning, no-run gems, which feels like the exception rather than the rule.

It’s still reasonably early in the season, and the 25-year-old is capable of turning things around and re-inserting himself into conversations about the future, but he’s not the sure-fire extension candidate he was considered to be two months ago.