Perhaps the most excited Blue Jay about a potential acquisition of franchise-altering talent Juan Soto is likely Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Born less than six months apart, the two grew up together on the baseball diamonds of the Dominican Republic, and have closely mirrored each other so far in their MLB careers.
The hype surrounding the fact that each of the three-time All-Stars could soon be teammates on a World Series favourite Toronto team is big news; and, since Vlad was first called up on April 26, 2019, Soto has 134 home runs and 396 RBI to Guerrero’s 130 and 404, respectively. Which hopefully suggests that there would be lots of friendly competition in 2024 as they add to those totals as teammates?
Both were the MVP-runners up in 2021, with Vlad second to Shohei Ohtani in the AL, and Juan right behind Bryce Harper in the NL. And they were both named to the Dominican Republic roster for the World Baseball Classic in March, although Guerrero couldn’t compete because of right knee discomfort.
We can see the camaraderie between these two superstars from a mic’d up player conversation back in 2021 when the Nationals were playing the Blue Jays, where they were self-deprecating about both being slow runners. Of course, Soto has 43 stolen bases over the same period to Vladdy’s 18 since his call-up, and 37th percentile sprint speed in 2023 to Guerrero’s 27th percentile, so that might not be a fair comparison.
The Soto and Guerrero families are Dominican baseball royalty, and the younger brothers of both stars were both signed during the international signing period in January this year. Elian Soto, the 17-year-old brother of Juan, agreed to a $225,000 signing bonus as part of a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals; while Pablo Guerrero, Vlad’s 16-year-old brother and son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, agreed to a $97,500 signing bonus with the Texas Rangers. The New York Mets are expected to sign another brother, 17-year-old Vladi Miguel Guerrero, during the 2024 international free-agency period, which begins in January.
Which takes us back to the story of the size 48 long blue jacket the Jays introduced during the vagabond 2021 season, when the Blue Jays called Dunedin, Buffalo and Rogers Centre all home thanks to pandemic era restrictions in Canada. Emblazoned with “La Gente del Barrio" on the back – literally “the people from the ‘hood”, the idea was conceived by Jays coach Hector “Tito” Lebron after he noticed on the Fenway Park scoreboard in July that Toronto led MLB home runs, but didn’t have a home run celebration like the Red Sox did, with a ride in a laundry cart.
As Gabe Lacques of USA Today noted, “The team already wore T-shirts with "La Gente del Barrio" on them; Lebron enlisted a former teammate-turned-tailor in Texas to apply that message along with the names of 15 Jays-related countries to the back. He received the blessing of [George] Springer, who then presented the jacket to a wide-eyed clubhouse.”
Of course, the legend only grew when the team won 10 of its first 12 games after the jacket’s July 29, 2021 debut, which also coincided with a happy return to Rogers Centre in Toronto that July 30th after 670 days on the road.
So with the protection a big left-handed bat like Soto’s would offer Springer, Bo Bichette and Guerrero in the lineup, could the Jays recapture some of that same “La Gente del Barrio” energy from 2021, when the team led MLB with 262 home runs and scored 846 runs, the third most in baseball that season?
Soto batted third in the lineup in 112 games and 2nd in 39 games this past year, and was 3rd in the lineup for 116 games in his MVP-runner up year in 2021. Guerrero also batted third in 135 games in his MVP finalist season, and 110 games this year, so could Soto bat cleanup behind him? Or could Springer be moved down in the lineup, with Bichette leading off, followed by Vladdy and Soto?
The other intangible Soto would bring to the Blue Jays lineup is his solid postseason experience, which includes 7 home runs and 21 RBI, with a slash line of .261/.349/.495 and OPS of .845 in 29 playoff games, including 3 HRs and 7 RBI with a 1.178 OPS to help the Washington Nationals to a thrilling 4-3 series win over the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series.
So while the cost to add one year of Juan Soto to a star-studded Blue Jays lineup would be steep, with top prospects like Orelvis Martinez, Brandon Barriera and Alan Roden mentioned, the Blue Jays would have three of the most marketable young stars in baseball in Soto, Guerrero and Bichette. They would also clearly be ‘all-in’ on a World Series title run in 2024 as the current competitive window nears its end.
Blue Jays fans should be giddy with excitement - the team is “in” on both Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto, right in the midst of the chase for the final piece to the World Series puzzle, with a newly renovated Rogers Centre lower bowl, the support of ownership for a payroll that will exceed the competitive balance (“luxury”) tax threshold for a second consecutive season, and a whole nation behind them.