Vlad Guerrero Jr. wins arbitration case against Blue Jays
Jays’ first baseman will earn $19.9-million in 2024
If there’s such a thing in pro sports as winning by losing, then the Blue Jays may have accomplished that rare feat, after a three-person panel on Wednesday awarded talented 24-year-old first-baseman, Vlad Guerrero Jr., via the arbitration process, his requested salary of $19.9-million for 2024. The decision was first reported by Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. It may end up being win-win for Vlad and the Jays.
The Jays had offered Guerrero Jr. a one-year salary of $18.05M in a process that demands that the three arbiters decide on either demand or offer, with no compromise possible.
Arbitration was introduced as a process in the 1970s at the behest of the newly-formed players union as a means of levelling the playing field of negotiations for players, who prior to free agency, had no ability to move unless their contract was traded or they were released.
The “reserve clause” in every standard contract cleverly rolled the player over to the next year, meaning there was no choice but to continue to play for the same team, usually at a salary that they pre-determined. It’s like restaurants that hang a sign saying “free beer tomorrow.”
The logic behind the odd assertion that the Jays might have won by losing is because in the process the player is forced to be in the room and forced to listen as representatives of his own team present a greasy case to the three-person panel that would likely include every negative aspect of the player’s previous season, his bad habits, his failures, his sketchy health, etc. Some teams play ruthless hardball and many players, even if they win their case, come out of the room, with egos battered and bruised, reluctant to forgive and never to forget.
The Jays used to be willing to go through the process. If they could not reach early agreement, they would talk compromise even as they entered the room, but for most of this century, policy has been that either you either settle with us on the day in January when numbers are exchanged, or we are taking you into the room to hear bad things about yourself.
Contrary to what you may believe, there are very few young ballplayers with thick skin, isn’t that right, Marcus? They are used to being coddled and treated as special with superior talent all the way through school, throughout their amateur careers. The only way the Jays won’t go through with the hearing, once the numbers have been exchanged is if it becomes a multi-year contract, like with Bo Bichette prior to 2023, signing for three guaranteed years through 2025.
With Vlad, I truly believe the Blue Jays may have been hoping all along that they would not have to go through the arbitration process on Tuesday. In fact of the 12 arb-eligible players they had post-2023, the Jays were able to settle for one year deals with 11 of them.
I truly believe that in that arbitration room on Tuesday, the Jays may not have fought as hard as they could have. They may have kept most of their bullets holstered. Short presentation? They would have to have shown the key pickoff in the Twins playoff, because that’s impossible to ignore and even Vlad has seen that over and over, ad nauseum. But beyond that “what-the-faux-pas” video, it may have been that the Jays’ presenter quickly closing his folder and handing it over to Vlad’s people with, “We rest our case.”
Consider that the two sides, Vlad and Jays, weren’t aware of the request and offer, back when they exchanged numbers, so the fact the difference was “only” $1.85M and was always going to be an all-time arbitration record no matter what, and that Mets’ slugger, Pete Alonso, perhaps the closest comparable, had settled with the club pre-arb for $20.5M a Blue Jays gentle surrender was a possibility.
Now, within the walls of the Blue Jays’ clubhouse, the pecking order in ’24 shows Kevin Gausman ($24M), George Springer ($22.5M), Chris Bassitt ($21M) and then Guerrero Jr. His five-year running mate, Bo Bichette, whose career path runs very much parallel to Vlad’s will be earning $11M in ’24 and $16.5M in ’25 as both men head to free agency in 2026. Which begs the question, why do the Blue Jays not sign them both to long-term deals right now?
Don’t look at their analytics and numbers, look at what they represent. They are two homegrown young stars that have a connection to the team and to the fans. No MLB team wins a championship with rentals in free agency or via trade. To be a sustainable winner, you need to build around your own best players. I’m not going to war over this, but Bichette and Guerrero Jr. are assets of which the Jays should be proud, around whom they should build.
Look over that duo’s shoulders at AAA-Buffalo and AA-New Hampshire. Are there any comparables to these two talented players on the horizon? If the Jays seemed willing this off-season to tie up Shohei Ohtani for close to $700M for 10 years and still have that money, then why not ink their two contributing franchise pieces together for the same 10 years at a combined less than $550M? In fact, while the Ohtani offer seemed more like a Rogers business deal, the Bo/Vlad contracts would be all about the fans and sustainability.
The twin 10-year deals would start with the upcoming, final two arb-eligible years, plus eight years of free agency, by which time they will be 35 and 36. Sure, give them a couple of opt-out years in a row after four years of locked-in free agency … so not until the 2030 season. Use the recently announced Bobby Witt Jr. contract as a guide.
And returning to the fact that they did not abuse and belittle Vlad at this year’s arbitration, that can only help that process and relationship. If the Jays wait until next year, the final year of club control, their two most important players will be ready to test the free agent market. So, it may be now or never … and now seems like the correct choice.