Blue Jays settle on one-year deals with 11 of 12 arbitration-eligible players leaving Vlad Guerrero Jr. as the elephant in the room
Arbitration process often drives wedge between player and organization
On Friday, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. might have looked around at his roster of Blue Jays teammates/friends and realized that of the club’s 12 arb-eligible players, he is the only one that did not settle on a 2024 contract on Thursday before, now, entering Phase 1 of the, often, relationship-damaging arbitration process.
Can the two sides still settle? No. According to the team’s recent history of no negotiations once numbers are exchanged, the die is cast. The policy is if a player does not settle before the deadline for exchanging offer-and-demand salary figures, that there can be no more negotiations — unless it’s a multi-year contract.
At that point, at the hearing, yet to be set on a date in February, the player is going in front of the independent arbitrator where he will hear team representatives rip into him for every weakness and every mistake he has ever made on and off the field (NOTE: maybe a long session for Vlad).
The player’s rep then presents an arguments to the arbitrator comparing other MLB players to his client and explain how much money those players are making. There will even be arguments from the agent about fan engagement and love, but the arbitrator is often not a baseball fan. The player is forced to be in the room and it can get ugly, with egos battered and relationships damaged. Players must appreciate the results leading to forced raises, but hate what the process does to fragile egos.
A brief history. Arbitration began in the ‘70s as a means to helping players squeeze more money out of owners. At the time, teams had control of players, forever, due to the “reserve clause”, a concept similar to bars that post the sign, “Free Beer Tomorrow”. The fact is tomorrow never came for beer or for allowing MLB players to move. It was the premise, with a wink, that owners used when signing players to one-year contracts, back in the day. Owners had the right to the next year upon expiration of that year’s contract. To be free, players had to sit out a full year. Wasn’t happening.
Back to the present. The Jays on Thursday, settled with 11 of their 12 arb-eligible players. If you add that to the 10 major-leaguers already inked to guaranteed contracts for 2024, total Jays payroll for 21 players is $178,137,500.
Opening day rosters, of course, include 26 players, so without any other moves being made and minus Vlad’s pending salary, the Jays have $35-million in payroll remaining for the final five players, in order to equal last year’s season-ending number. Recall back in October, Jays’ CEO Mark Shapiro suggested that the 2024 payroll would be about the same as ‘23. So, five more players and $35M available.
There are several possible outcomes to the vexing Vlad arbitration situation. One of the outcomes is very, very bad for both sides. Let’s examine all of them. The salary numbers exchanged on Thursday, according to Baseball Canada, 2024 Bob Elliott Award winner, Shi Davidi, included a player request of $19.9M and a team offer of $18.05M. In this day and age, the $1.85M difference does not seem insurmountable, but, remember, the team’s hardline policy is no compromise.
Option 1: The Jays could internally realize that the difference in numbers is not worth the battle and could then enter the hearing room, keeping their guns holstered, allowing the arbitrator to hear a one-sided argument, resulting in a Guerrero win.
Option 2: They could go through with it and play hardball with Vlad, explaining to the arbitrator the baserunning and decision-making gaffes that have defined Vlad’s past two seasons. They could look into Vlad’s eyes and speak about perceived conditioning and focus issues on the field and in the dugout that have combined to drop Vlad from what had been an MLB-wide consensus of being one of baseball’s elite stars. But the negative ripple effect of Option 2 would cause more in damage than $1.85M.
Option 3: Negotiate and sign Vlad to a long-term contract prior to the arbitration hearing. The glass-half-full crowd would suggest that as, perhaps, being the reason that the Jays and Vlad did not settle on a number, because they had been seriously working on a long-term deal to finally lock up the core of this team. The glass-half-empty crowd would counter that he needs to prove he is worthy of a mega-deal. The downside is if he has a great year in 2024, the price of playing poker just went up.
The most optimistic of those “half-full” supporters would even suggest that Bo Bichette should be included in this long-term contract, team defining push, as an effort to hang an identity on this Jays team, keeping the contention window open, while building around two face-of-the-franchise, young, home-grown favourites.
Think about the logic. If the Jays felt in December that they sincerely had the ability to compete in the final three for Shohei Ohtani, then signing both Vlad and Bo, each to 10-year deals, would still come in combined less than $700M. Roll the dice?
Perhaps the delay in that option is that there is still an active Jays offer out there for free-agent Cody Bellinger and they are waiting to see what the talented outfielder decides before proceeding towards a negotiated reward for their two home-growns. Recall Bo signed a three year-deal prior to last season that carries him through to free-agency, which is why there has been no buzz regarding the all-star shortstop.
Clearly, of the above three options in terms of handling Guerrero Jr. and his decision to go through with his arbitration, Option 3 is the one that makes the most sense for the players, the team and the fanbase and is easily the most positive choice for a team about to introduce a pleasure palace of expensive fan options and club memberships to a hugely renovated Rogers Centre. If you build it, will they come?
Blue Jays 2024 Salaries (21 players under contract)
RHP Kevin Gausman $24.0M … (2025-26/$46.0M)
OF George Springer $22.5M … (2025-26/$45.0M)
RHP Chris Bassitt $21.0M … (2025/$21.0M)
RHP Jose Berrios $17.0M … (2025-28/$84.0M)
SS Bo Bichette $11.0M … (2025/$16.5M)
CF Kevin Kiermaier $10.5M … (2025 FA)
LHP Yusei Kikuchi $10.0M … (2025 FA)
RHP Chad Green $9.5M … (2025 FA)
*RHP Jordan Romano $7.75M
UT Isiah Kiner-Falefa $7.5M … (2025/$7.5M)
*OF Daulton Varsho $5.65M
*C Danny Jansen $5.2M … (2025 FA)
RHP Yimi Garcia $5.0M … (2025 FA)
*UT Cavan Biggio $4.21M
*LHP Tim Mayza $3.59M
*C Alejandro Kirk $2.8M
*RHP Erik Swanson $2.75M
*INF Santiago Espinal $2.725M
*RHP Trevor Richards $2.15M … (2025 FA)
*LHP Genesis Cabrera $1.5125
*RHP Nate Pearson $800,000
(*one-year pre-arbitration settlements)
Team Control pre-arb but with >1 year of MLB service (4)
RHP Alek Manoah, RHP Mitch White, RHP Zach Pop, INF Ernie Clement
Other 40-man Jays with <1 year of experience who played MLB in ’23 (6):
UT Davis Schneider, OF Nathan Lukes, RHP Hagen Danner, RHP Bowden Francis, INF Spencer Horwitz, RHP Wes Parsons.