Mark March 28, 2019 on your Blue Jays calendars. That is the date when we should see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. play his first game with Toronto. March 28 is the rather early opening day next season and that’s when it would be in the team’s best interests to bring him up to the majors. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be.
Considering the red-hot year Vlad’s had in the minors and the lacklustre year of 2018 for the Blue Jays, there’s certainly reason for fans to perhaps want, even expect, him to be called up for September when rosters can expand to 40 from 25. After all, it would be something for them to be excited about and a guy who’s hitting .390 with 70 RBI in 85 games in the minors would likely be an upgrade over the likes of Randal Grichuk or Guerrero’s fellow rookie, Billy McKinney at the plate at least. I hope the team resists the temptation to do so.
At this point you might be thinking me curiously inconsistent. After all, did I not in my last column suggest that the team should try to trade for Jose Bautista exclusively for the fans who’d like to see him in the blue-and-white one more time, even if it didn’t add a single “W” to the standings?
I did indeed, but there is a world of difference. Bautista is an aging player who is likely playing out his final MLB season and it seems appropriate for him to end a lofty career in the uniform he had all his real success in. The risk to Toronto is very minimal since the team isn’t going to the post-season and it won’t effect Jose’s future much one way or another. Vladimir, on the other hand is an entirely different story and bringing him up just to show him off for Rogers’ Centre fans for a few at bats could harm him and the longterm success of the team. Here’s why.
First, and significantly is the highly unlikely possibility that he’d injure himself badly playing in September. Yes, any player faces that risk every time they take the field and I don’t see it being a reason to keep a regular roster player out . If the Jays were say, Seattle, hovering on the verge of a playoff spot, I’d say it would be well worth the risk. Those extra few hits he could produce might just be the game changers for a game or two that would lift the team into the post-season. But such is not the case. Likely he’d do just fine through 15 or 20 games and get his feet wet, so to speak. But does anyone really think it would be worth it should he somehow break his leg running or pull a Justin Morneau and get kneed in the head sliding into base and never quite being the same afterwards?
Second, and the real reason Toronto will likely resist the temptation, is financial. The sooner he arrives in the majors, the sooner the countdown to his potential free agency begins. Sure, it’s 6 years away, but why hasten its arrival? What’s more, it would also speed up his ability to get to salary arbitration, which could happen after two full seasons. Adding a few games now might make him arbitration-eligible a year earlier than otherwise, and cost the team millions of dollars down the road. (The complicated arbitration process clause about ‘Super Twos’, in which some talented players can file for it a year sooner than most is why Toronto might not bring him up to start 2019, wins and losses be damned.)
Third, let’s not make the young man’s head explode, or fill it with bad advice. I’m all for learning from many people, but let’s remember he is still a teenager. He’s taken advice and heard differing opinions from managers and coaches at New Hampshire and Buffalo already this year. I worry that having him take a new set of instructions in the Toronto clubhouse might be detrimental… largely because the current staff seems to do little to really enhance the performance of young hitters. Not to mention, as discussed here and elsewhere, John Gibbons seems destined to be replaced as manager in the off-season. One would expect/hope that if that happens, the dominoes will fall, starting with his ineffective hitting coach, Brook Jacoby. (Again, I add that I have nothing against Mr. Jacoby the man, and that he was a fine player in his day. But he seems unable to do anything to improve the hitters he’s surrounded by these days.) So why have Vlad come up and learn the philosophies and strategies about hitting and baserunning from a coaching staff that will probably not be around in 2019? Any bad habits he picks up in September will just mean more work for the new staff to correct…and looking at the roster, they’ll probably have their hands full next spring!
As a fan, I’m excited about the prospect of having such a great young talent playing for the Jays. But I can wait til next year. Take the advice of MLB’s own website, Jays, – promote Anthony Alford in a few days and let Guerrero get a start on dreaming about next season.