With all the speculation about who the Blue Jays should sign or trade for, maybe the team should consider signing the talent they already have.
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SO….do you think the Blue Jays should trade from its farm system bounty and acquire Francisco Lindor? Are you calling for Rogers to call in the armored bank trucks to sign Trevor Bauer and JT Realmuto?
You may not like this article very much…
From the moment the Dodgers vanquished Tampa Bay in Game 6 and held their own COVID spreader event at Globe Life Park, the attentions of baseball fans turned to spending their teams’ money on the players they envisioned would lead their team to a World Series championship. May God have mercy on your souls if you are or know a Toronto Blue Jays fan with a Twitter account. Birthdays, anniversaries and even election news were buried in an avalanche of trade innuendo and free agent rumour-mongering.
My colleagues at JFtC have tried to bring a sense of realistic expectations to Hot Stove discussions. But even the wisest of prophets can submit to temptations and fall victim to daydreaming and biased fandom. Especially when the Team President and General Manager enflame the Hot Stove by suggesting the money and willingness to spend it is very real in Blue Jays Land. So I absolutely understand the desire to dream big and reach for the MLB stars.
As alluring and shiny new players might appear from afar, the value of players already on the home team roster should be more readily apparent to us. In the case of a youthful Toronto Blue Jays roster, I must admit I have a hard time rationalizing spending good money on other rosters before taking care of their own assets. Sure, I spend endless hours spending bottomless dollars on a “dream team”; doodling lineups and setting pitching rotations that fly in the face of analytics. But the names I seem to value most are not additions-they are the foundations already laid.
Ever since the Seattle Mariners signed 23-year old Evan White to a 6-year, $24 million extension before he played above Double A, I have found myself charting courses for the Blue Jays to do the same with its core talent. Especially after witnessing White earning a Gold Glove at first base and turning in what would have been an All-Star season if 2020 had been a normal season. Scott Kingery of the Phillies and Eloy Jiminez of the White Sox had previously 6 year deals, buying out their arbitration eligibility and giving both player and club cost certainty. At a time when Blue Jays fans don’t know for sure where their team will be playing in 2021 or how they will be able to cheer their team from the stands, why not lend some certainty to who Toronto can cheer for in the immediate future.
According to SporTrac, the 2021 payroll currently stands at $74, 836, 904. Industry experts and JFtC contributors seem to agree that the team will have approximately $30 to $40 million available to purchase or trade for roster upgrades. While it may be more fun to spread the wealth outside the confines of Rogers Centre and the Dunedin complex, it just may be more prudent to keep the money in-house.
The Jays could trade for a shortstop (Lindor), but they have a very good one now (Bichette). They could sign a second baseman with positional flexibility (LeMahieu) and piss off a divisional rival, or they can reward their homegrown version (Biggio) and make a significant portion of their fanbase happy. There is an intelligent pitcher with unwavering confidence in his stuff out there (Bauer), and a younger version already here (Pearson). So allow me to present the case for keeping the money in the family before giving it away to outsiders.
1) Sign Bichette to a 6-year, 33.6 million dollar extension. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. will continue to be the young Blue Jay player with the most talent and the highest ceiling. Bo Bichette is and will be the STAR. Bichette is a must-watch every time he comes to bat. He has the power to drive the ball to the gaps and send it over the fence in any ballpark. While he will not remind anyone of Lindor at shortstop, his range and athleticism will allow him to make the plays he needs to and projects well at third base or even a corner outfield spot. Using SporTrac positional payroll figures for 2021, the average major league shortstop salary is $2.803 million. Bichette is not an average major league shortstop, so let’s double that number to $5.6 million. Using the precedent set by the White, Kingery and Jimenez, Atkins should make negotiating a a 6 year, $33.6 million dollar with Bo Bichette his next off-season move.
2) Sign Cavan Biggio to a 5 year, $25 million dollar extension. Approaching Cavan Biggio with an offer to buy out his arbitration years and early part of his free agency may be the easiest of these propositions to pull off. Biggio is the oldest of the homegrown core. At 26 he would enter arbitration at the arc of his expected peak performance. Thus barring exceeding projected performance and production, securing guaranteed money earlier in his career may offset any reduced value once he hits the free agent market. The Phillies gave Scott kingery, now the same age as Biggio, 6 years at $24 million. Biggio is a significantly better player than Kingery, so an AAV of $5million is more in line with his true value. However his age dictates a shorter term of 5 years. It also makes a Biggio contract very enticing down the road to other teams as prospects come up or a free agent acquisition is made.
3) Sign Nate Pearson to a 5 year, $22.35 million dollar extension. A Nate Pearson extension carries with it the most danger. Pitchers in general tend to suffer more debilitating injuries more frequently. Pitchers that throw 100 miles per hour on a consistent basis are as close to a guaranteed Tommy John surgery as you will find. But Pearson is not your run-of-the-mill young gun. His arsenal of heat and devastating breaking pitches is virtually unmatched in MLB amongst veterans, let alone at 24 years of age. This normally would make the thought of an early extension improbable. But the arm injury Pearson suffered only a few outings into his rookie campaign may cause just enough doubt in his mind to consider maximizing his earnings sooner as opposed to later.
From a Blue Jays standpoint, cost certainty for a talent like Pearson is a no-brainer. More than any position, the costs associated with securing reliable pitching are escalating at alarming rates and not just for starting pitching, as the past 5 free agent reliever classes have proven. Even if arm wear and tear or organizational need moves Big Nate into a late inning relief role over the course of this extension. Using the average pitching contract figure published by SporTrac of $4.47 million per year for 5 years of a maturing Pearson should make the investment worthwhile to all parties.
No doubt you have noticed I have not presented an extension for Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. No doubt you have called me a variety of less-than flattering names, but for this exercise we’ll settle on “dope”. This is not based on lower than expected production or lack of faith in Vladdy’s ability to evolve into the superstar we all expect him to become. At 21, the future is brighter than a neon Tim Horton’s sign. But Guerrero disappointed many in the organization (no one more than himself) by re-emerging from the COVID shutdown overweight and out of sorts. Given another season to redeem himself in the field and at the plate, Guerrero could very well inspire the Toronto front office to explore a similar extension to the aforementioned Eloy Jimenez 6 year, 43.2 million dollar extension signed in 2019. But we aren’t there yet-there is plenty of time to spend 2022 payroll dollars for Shapkins and Company.
While I have not been as generous as many Blue Jays fans and JFtC writers with Rogers money, I have committed the team to $15.07 million in payroll annually for at least the next 5 years. Factor in the current salary commitment of $575,000 for each of the 3 extended Blue Jays, I have secured cost certainty for the team for the bargain-basement net cost of $13.345 million dollars. The 3 extended players will no longer need to struggle along their path to major league stardom making only 575k and can breathe a little easier should they suffer a major injury or struggle along the way.
There are some obvious issues that I have not addressed, such as Bichette and Biggio being the sons of major league players who weathered the contentious 1994-95 strike that paved the way for their sons to perhaps do better than they did financially. Not to mention major league pitchers are the MLB diva equivalent of NFL quarterbacks, casting doubt on Pearson accepting such an offer. But $15.07 million for 3 players is far more cost effective for 3 controllable players than the gazillion dollars many Blue Jays fans seem willing to fork over to Lindor, Realmuto, LeMahieu and Bauer. Plus it still leaves money in the 2021 coffers to acquire a few more affordable roster upgrades.
You may not like this approach to contention in 2021 and beyond. But even pragmatists can dream.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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