DUNEDIN, Fla. – Manny Machado’s pending $300-million, 10-year deal with the San Diego Padres and Bryce Harper’s looming payday are important leading indicators for the Toronto Blue Jays, setting the groundwork for where they might one day be with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Now, the still-teenaged slugger has yet to take a single at-bat in the majors and will need years to prove he’s the generational talent so many project him to be. But, if the Blue Jays keep him in the minors for at least 15 days to open 2019 in order to artificially delay his free agency for a year as expected, Guerrero will be able to hit the open market after the 2025 campaign.
He’d be 26 at the time, just like Machado and Harper, and while his defence won’t be as dynamic as that of the soon-to-be Padres infielder, his offensive profile may end up more enticing than that of the two sluggers.
Asked if, given the similar horizons and potential, the Machado contract would have any influence on how the Blue Jays manage Guerrero as an asset, general manager Ross Atkins replied: “That would be the first time I’ve thought of that. He’s a long way away from being in that category, a lot has to happen and we are confident and optimistic that he will do everything in his power to make sure that happens, and we will do the same on our end.”
Both Machado and Harper went year-to-year in arbitration before finally hitting the market, but the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout took a different approach, agreeing on a $144.5-million, six-year extension in the spring of 2014 that bought out three free-agent years.
Another example is Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers, who agreed on a $152.3-million, eight-year deal in the spring of 2008 that covered six free-agent seasons, demonstrating how sometimes striking early with a star player can make sense for both sides.
Comparables and precedents are often used during contract negotiations, which is why what Machado and Harper do could potentially be relevant to Guerrero. Even Atkins acknowledged that, “every contract has an impact, every single one of them, absolutely.”
“And I love it,” he continued. “I love seeing exceptionally talented players get paid lots of money, and I think the money should be going to players. Often talked about are the comparisons to actors, and what these guys are doing on the field is exceptional. (What Machado and Harper) have already done is so exceptional, the market is dictating that that’s their value, and I’m glad we have some resolution on one of them. I would expect it will have some impact moving forward.”
STILL ON THE HUNT
The Blue Jays continue to sift through the free-agent market in search of value and Atkins said, “we’ve had ongoing discussions all off-season and continue to have them. … We’d just like to add to pitching, whether that’s a starter or reliever. We’re working on that daily.”
Barring injury, the Blue Jays are set in centre field with Kevin Pillar and right field with Randal Grichuk, leaving Teoscar Hernandez and Billy McKinney for left field. Asked if the plan was for them to compete for everyday playing time or to platoon, Atkins replied: “We’ll see. As it stands right now, the latter. We’re going to have a fourth outfielder. It’s not necessarily that (McKinney) is platooning with Teoscar, there will be other opportunities for them. Obviously, Grichuk and Pillar have more established track records, but being open to different configurations and different ways and different matchups will be a strength of this major-league staff and that will influence the playing time of all of those individuals.” Devon Travis, Brandon Drury and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. may also see some time in the outfield.
Right-hander T.J. Zeuch, the 2016 first-rounder, will miss the entire spring with a lat strain, said Atkins. There was no timeline for a return. … Free-agent signing David Phelps is on pace to “potentially break with the team” as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. Being ready for opening day “is not our goal. That could just be an outcome,” said Atkins. “We’re not going to push him to meet that date, but it could end up being an outcome.”