The Blue Jays’ core players are about to get more expensive. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has already reached arbitration as a Super Two player, agreeing to a $7.9MM salary in his first of four passes through the arb system. Teoscar Hernandez is earning $10.65MM this year, his second of three arb seasons. Cavan Biggio, like Guerrero, qualified for Super Two and is in his first of four arb seasons, making $2.1225MM this year.
As for Bo Bichette, his two years and 63 days of service time fell shy of this year’s Super Two cutoff of 2.116, meaning he won’t be able to earn a meaningful salary increase until after this season. As for whether an extension is in the cards, the 24-year-old had told Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith that his camp and the club have had some conversations, but that “right now we’re focused on the season and accomplishing what we think we’re capable of. Right now, we’re not talking.” Most players usually prefer not to continue extension talks into the regular season, meaning it’s likely they won’t resume until the end of this campaign, when Bichette will have reached arbitration and earned himself some more leverage in any future negotiations.
Team president/CEO Mark Shapiro doesn’t seem overly stressed about the situation. “It’s not like we are a small market where if it gets towards the end of the contract and we can’t extend them, we need to panic and trade them for prospects,” Shapiro tells Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. “I understand fans or maybe someone externally might think you need to extend these guys. I felt that way when I was working in Cleveland. I do not feel that way working in Toronto.” That’s not to say they won’t try at all, of course. “Those players are both under control for three more seasons (beyond 2022),” Shapiro said of both Bichette and Guerrero. “That is a very long time. During that time, it’s safe to say we will continue both formally and informally to explore extensions with them. Should that not happen, we’re very comfortable that our market gives us the ability to go year to year and pay them year to year. And if they happen to get to free agency, we obviously will be a team that will pursue them in free agency, too.”
Despite a 2020 season in which the team played their home games in Buffalo with no fans, and a 2021 season in which they bounced from Dunedin to Buffalo and then back to Toronto with limited capacity, the club is running a franchise record Opening Day payroll this year. Jason Martinez of Roster Resource pegs it at $172MM, topping the $163MM from 2017, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. However, there will be need for future moves, as a big chunk of the roster will be hitting free agency after the 2023 season, including Teoscar Hernandez, Hyun Jin Ryu, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Matt Chapman. “You won’t need to ask, you can just look at the attendance numbers, look at the ratings and that will give you your answer,” Shapiro said of the future spending. “If we get back to levels we were at in ’15 and ’16, we will be fine to sustain or even grow our payroll. If we do not, we will probably have to reconsider our roster.”
As for Bichette, Davidi reports that the Blue Jays offered him a salary of $747.1K for this year, just barely above the $700K league minimum. Bichette refused this offer, a move often taken by pre-arbitration players as a form of protest against compensation they consider insufficient. Whether that will hamper future relations between the two camps is unknown, but Shapiro’s comments illustrate he views the future health of the club as connected to larger issues than an individual player’s contract. As Davidi points out in his piece, the club was content to let Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien sign elsewhere, while turning to alternatives like Kevin Gausman, Matt Chapman and Yusei Kikuchi for replacements. While the merits of that strategy can be debated, the public relations will certainly be different with players like Bichette and Guerrero, who have been the focus of Jays fans since well before their debuts, as opposed to vets on short-term deals like Ray and Semien.