Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, or so the proverb says. With some persistent rumours about a potential Bo Bichette trade making the rounds, we look at what a case for trading the young Blue Jays superstar might look like. Of course, Jays fans want him to sign a long term $300M+ extension to stay in Toronto, but they also don’t want him just to walk away as a free agent with only draft pick compensation after 2025.
Sublime, MVP-like talents in their prime with two remaining years of team control like Bichette do not become available on the trade market very often: Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, Francisco Lindor, Matt Olson and Blake Snell are recent examples, but those are the exception, not the rule.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet wrote recently that “The non-Jays execs I've spoken to this winter are under the impression the Blue Jays plan to keep Bo Bichette. Now, that doesn’t stop other teams from expressing interest, but remember, it takes two for any real traction to develop.“
GM Ross Atkins said as much in his comments to the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America Tuesday afternoon: “He’s a really good player in a market that doesn’t have a great deal of position players. We are very fortunate to have him and he is our SS moving forward. Rumours, speculation there’s usually something (to that) but in our case Bo is our SS moving forward.”
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required) notes that “The Blue Jays are getting calls on first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as well as Bichette, according to major-league sources who were granted anonymity in order to speak freely. However, it makes little sense for the Jays to move either star when they are under pressure to win and believed to be pursuing Shohei Ohtani. Granted, neither Bichette nor Guerrero has signed a contract extension, and both are two years away from free agency.”
Generally teams hold on to their young stars through their controllable years before those players can test free agency, where we see huge free agent contracts for MVP and Cy Young talents like the massive multi-year deals signed by Bryce Harper, Corey Seager, Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge. Ohtani appears primed to shatter Judge’s $360M record for a free agent contract this offseason, with talk of a $500M+ deal.
Bichette will be entering his age-26 season in 2024 and is coming off a second All-Star campaign where he had the 4th-most hits in the American League. This was after he lead the AL in hits in both 2021 and 2022. Since his debut in July of 2019, Bichette has the 3rd-most hits in MLB at 653, trailing only Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner.
Since he was called up, Bichette has the 24th-highest fWAR of any MLB player at 15.7, while slashing .299/.340/.487 for an OPS of .826, which is 26% better than league average, with a wRC+ of 127, i.e. 27% better than league average. That puts him in elite company, and top-25 players are not usually available via trade.
He also flashed some vastly improved glove work in 2023, ranking 10th in MLB among qualified shortstops with a total Defensive Runs Saved of +5, which tied him with Seager.
Similarly to his teammate Guerrero, Bichette could potentially seek a long term contract extension in the $300M+ range, which would be the largest ever contract signed by a Blue Jays player. The most lucrative free agent contract and total value the Blue Jays have ever offered in their 47 year history is the six-year, $150M free agent deal signed by George Springer in January of 2021.
A high water mark could be any of the following deals, which are either free agent ones or contract extensions:
- Francisco Lindor - 10 years, $341M
- Corey Seager - 10 years, $325M
- Trea Turner - 11 years, $300M
- Xander Bogaerts - 11 years, $280M
- Carlos Correa - 6 years, $200M
- Dansby Swanson - 7 years, $177M
So apart from risking fan revolt by trading away someone as popular and talented as Bichette, what could possibly justify trading away one of the faces of the franchise? He’s got two years and $27.5M left on the contract he signed ahead of last season that runs through his arbitration years, but Bichette could test the free agent market after the 2025 season if he doesn’t sign an extension beyond that.
If he’s not willing to sign a long term extension and is committed to testing free agency, then his trade value for the Blue Jays will never be higher: two years of team control at a very reasonable $11.2M AAV for his ~5.0 annual bWAR production. Toronto’s front office would be remiss not to at least listen to what might be available; it’s just good roster management and good governance to see what Bichette’s trade value might be.
With the Blue Jays’ competitive window closing, could a trade of either Bichette or Guerrero extend that window depending on the return they bring back in a trade? Both players are under team control for two more seasons, but if they leave in free agency after 2025, the Jays will likely regress. If the front office is unable to extend them, the Jays could be left only with draft pick compensation after 2025 assuming they both reject qualifying offers.
Given his pointed comments after the Blue were swept out of the postseason again this year, and the seeming inability to extend Bichette beyond his arbitration years, the front office might have to think hard about what a Bichette trade could look like.
The teams mentioned so far as potential trade partners for Bichette include the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs. Both clubs feature talented young, controllable players and top ten farm systems, with multiple top 100 prospects. With the Blue Jays clearly in the market for a third baseman to replace Matt Chapman, and an outfielder to replace Kevin Kiermaier, could they acquire multiple young MLB players plus prospects in a trade?
MLB.com's Dodgers beat writer Juan Toribio noted that Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes said “shortstop Gavin Lux is continuing to progress after suffering a torn ACL and LCL, as well as a right hamstring tear. Lux has been doing drills and, if healthy, could be the team’s starting shortstop in 2024. The Dodgers, however, will continue to monitor the trade market for a shortstop, mainly Milwaukee’s Willy Adames and Toronto’s Bo Bichette.”
Would a Bichette trade for a package starting with 26-year-old Dodgers James Outman, who finished third in their NL RoY vote this year and bats from the left side like Kiermaier; 26-year-old Gavin Lux, who is recovering from a devastating right knee injury that kept him out of the 2023 season; and, 24-year-old Emmet Sheehan, who made 11 starts for the Dodgers in 2023, be enough for the Blue Jays to consider? Perhaps they could add left-handed hitting prospect Michael Busch, ranked 47th overall by MLB Pipeline to push the deal across the line?
The Cubs could counter with 21-year-old lefty-swinging prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong, ranked 12th overall by MLB Pipeline with an 80-grade scouting report in the field, i.e. “top-of-the-scale grades to his center-field skills, as he exhibits tremendous range from gap to gap with his combination of plus speed and precision reads and routes, and he completes the package with solid arm strength. He's aggressive in the outfield and on the bases, stealing 32 bags in 43 tries last season.”
They could add 22-year-old righty Cade Horton, the No. 29 prospect in baseball, who has a 60-grade fastball and 65-grade slider; and, 24-year-old slugger Christopher Morel, who could replace Brandon Belt at DH. He’s slugged 42 home runs in 220 MLB games, including 26 in 2023, with an OPS+ of 110 in his two seasons so far.
If they do decide to explore trades for Bichette, the Blue Jays could also look to make a separate trade for Brewers SS Willy Adames as a one-year bridge to some of their younger SS prospects like Orelvis Martinez, Arjun Nimmala, Leo Jimenez and Josh Kasevich.
A vast majority of Jays fans would prefer to see Bichette sign a big, multi-year extension to stay in Toronto. However, if he’s going to walk away as a free agent with only a draft pick as compensation for losing him, good governance and best roster management practices say the Blue Jays should gauge his market value. They should have learned from the Josh Donaldson fiasco as to why you need to protect player value instead of destroying it.