In the Blue Jays camp the news of the week is… well, let’s just turn the headline over to the New York Post: “Here’s the …excuse the Blue Jays had waited for.”
Yes, surprise, surprise, they have announced Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has an oblique muscle strain, and that will take around 3 weeks to clear up. This of course means he’ll end up missing most of spring training and will doubtless need to work on some rehab and some brushing up on the basics in the minors before being deemed ready to play in the Bigs. Three weeks plus, say two weeks of rehabbing at Buffalo might put us at… oh,about the third week of April, which would coincidentally be around when the number of days left in the season would dip just below 172.
172 is a magic number to players and owners alike because that’s the number of days a player has to be on the MLB 25 man roster or the 10-day Injured (nee disabled) list to qualify for a full year’s service time. And a player needs 6 years service time to be eligible for free agency. Ergo, a player who comes up as a rookie, oh say around April 17, might get 170 or so days on the roster that year… and not be credited with a full service year. Those few days push back his path to free agency by a full year (not to mention delay him getting salary arbitration.)
Of course, the team can’t say “we’re keeping so-and-so at AAA for a few weeks because we don’t want to lose him to free agency a year sooner and we think this might save us $30 million down the road,” because that would violate the collective bargaining agreement and probably get them sued left and right. So instead, the best rookies inevitably find themselves either suffering mystery injuries in April or being kept down because something… their base-running, their bunting, their penmanship for signing autographs… needs work and will work itself out, probably about 15 days in. It’s a farce, but Toronto’s not unique in taking part in it. We saw Atlanta do it last year with Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna, we saw Washington do it a few years ago with one Bryce Harper. It’s a situation that needs resolving next time the owners and players sit down and chat, for everyone’s sake. Especially the fans.
The sad thing is, hey, who knows… Vlad might have pulled a muscle. He’s a very big and very physical young guy, and pulling a chest muscle can happen easily. But with the league’s monetary and free agency systems set up like they are, no one is going to believe it for a minute. At least it gave us a few laughs, like the one person who tweeted that on an “unrelated note” the Jays were releasing Tonya Harding from her position in “player development.”
Speaking of Guerrero, I’m getting increasingly nervous for his season. Guerrero is undoubtedly a talent already and has potential to be a superstar. A quick search of his 2018 minors and flirtation with a .400 average, or of video of him swatting balls right out of the park against solid pitchers will convince anyone of that. However, in the limited at bats he had in spring so far, he was hitting barely .200 and striking out more than we’re used to seeing. This in itself isn’t a worry. 20 times to the plate makes not a year, and we’ve seen legit veterans look way out of their depth in the first week of March, only to go on to be in the All Star Game and end up smashing 40 homers or hitting .315. My worry though comes from how high expectations are for young VG…and how intolerant some fans can be.
Upon a news release from the team about his injury which included a picture of the not-petite-in- any-way Guerrero in a baggy jersey reaching for a grounder, the Twitterverse was abuzz with comments about “is he rehabbing at McDonald’s” and it’s going to take a long time for him to get in shape, to which others responded things like “he’s in shape already -round!”. In short, those who seemed to believe he was injured at all seem to assume that it’s because he’s “out of shape” and “fat.” Uggh.
Guerrero turns 20 this week. Mike Trout had just turned 20 when he first got called up to the Majors by the Angels… and lest you forgot, played 40 games that year, hitting a lowly .220 with 5 homers and 30 K’s to just 6 BBs. Yet, most would agree, things have worked out quite well with him. I think Vlad will hit better than .220 and won’t strikeout five times to every walk this year… but he might not be an instant MVP, .333 hitting, 40 homer guy. I am not sure everyone in the stands and Jays-verse will be as understanding of that fact as I will be. He’s a kid folks. A very talented, hard-working one, but a kid nonetheless. Let’s cut him a little slack and relax. He’s trying, he’s got talent, he’s going to win some games for the Blue Jays. But not until the end of April, it would seem.
On our next outing here, I’m going to look at some more changes it seems Rob Manfred has engineered that might be coming to a big league park near you sooner than you think.