In early February last year, the Toronto Blue Jays and shortstop Bo Bichette agreed to a three-year, $33.6M contract that allowed their young star to avoid arbitration in 2023 and buy out his remaining arbitration eligibility. At an annual average value (AAV) of $11.2M, it gave the Jays cost certainty, plus outstanding value when Bichette put up a 4.9 bWAR and was an All-Star for the second time in his career, with 175 hits and an OPS of .814.
What led to that extension was likely a motivation to avoid a potentially messy arbitration hearing, but such discussions can also lead to longer term contract extensions with players that can include some of their free agent years. Bichette will be a free agent after the 2025 season, so any opportunity to understand his expectations and create dialogue with his representation at CAA Sports and agent Greg Genske was surely valuable information.
The Blue Jays have 12 players on their 40-man roster who are currently eligible for salary arbitration in 2024, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Jordan Romano, Daulton Varsho and Danny Jansen. MLB Trade Rumors projects those players will win a combined $58.2M in arbitration awards for the upcoming season, with Guerrero at $20.4M, Romano at $7.7M, Varsho at $5.5M and Jansen at $5.2M.
The January 12th deadline for teams and arbitration-eligible players to submit salary figures for the upcoming season can serve as a catalyst for those under consideration for multi-year extensions. The Blue Jays are a so called “file and trial” team, which means the only way for them to avoid an arbitration hearing with a player after the upcoming deadline is to agree to a multi-year deal, like Bichette’s three-year contract.
We could also see some deals signed before that deadline given the hearings themselves can be messy, as clubs present their argument for why a player doesn’t deserve what they’ve asked for. A more recent example of this was Marcus Stroman losing his 2018 arbitration hearing, which perhaps permanently soured that relationship between player and front office?
We’ve already heard from catcher Danny Jansen that the Blue Jays aren’t pursuing a contract extension with him despite his pending free agency after the 2024 season. In an interview with TSN’s Scott Mitchell, Jansen said that though the sides did talk about a potential extension, “both parties agreed to carry on and see what happens throughout this year.”
It’s also well known that Bichette, Guerrero, Romano, Mayza, Swanson, Cavan Biggio and Génesis Cabrera could all potentially leave in free agency after the 2025 season. Varsho, Alejandro Kirk, Santiago Espinal and Nate Pearson could follow them after 2026.
So could the Blue Jays improve their cost certainty and share some risk with these players, many of whom are core to the team’s outlook? We know that Ross Atkins saw 2023 as “a blip in terms of run-scoring” and is betting on many of these players - including Guerrero, Varsho and Kirk - to show improvement on their 2023 seasons.
If the front office truly believes in that internal improvement, couldn’t they put their money where their belief is and extend some of these players to multi-year deals to avoid arbitration hearings? Following the Bichette extension last February, Ross Atkins said, “I know that our team was excited to see that outcome. We would much rather be having this meeting today than talking about the outcome of the hearing. I think that goes for our entire team.” Are there more exciting outcomes pending for 2024?