There’s a new trend starting to show up in the major leagues which could have Toronto Blue Jays fans wondering if their club might soon follow suit.
Rather than pushing back the debut of a top prospect or waiting until he approaches arbitration a few years down the road, a few clubs have opted to expedite the process and lock up their young stars to long-terms deals.
Take the Chicago White Sox, for example. The club signed top prospect Eloy Jimenez to a six-year deal worth $43 million a week before he’d even seen his first pitch in the MLB. By agreeing on the deal now, the White Sox ensure team control for up to eight years (the deal includes team options in 2025 and 2026) and gives both club and player plenty of security.
The Atlanta Braves took a similar approach on Tuesday when they locked up Ronald Acuna Jr. to an eight-year, $100 million contract. Acuna is more of a known entity as he has one year of MLB experience under his belt. And what a year it was. His stellar play — .293 batting average, .366 on-base percentage, a team-high 26 home runs and 64 RBIs — earned him NL rookie of the year honours. Still, locking him up earlier than usual represented a different kind of thinking for the club.
As we await the arrival of third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., it’s worth asking if the Blue Jays might take a similar approach with their top prospect.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins was asked about the trend during an appearance on The Starting Lineup Wednesday morning, and broke down the pros and cons of locking up a young player ahead of schedule.
“The attractive part is, any time that you’re sharing risk with a player, it’s hard to get to those points. It’s hard to find that, it doesn’t happen just overnight. It happens with a lot of discussion, a lot of interaction, a lot of back-and-forth and what’s important to a player and what’s important to an organization has to line up and those risks are very different,” Atkins said. “On the players’ side, the risk is potentially turning down the opportunity to go to free agency and potentially set records in free agency for players that are as talented and project to be as good as the players that you’re mentioning (Jimenez and Acuna).”
One of the first opinions to surface upon the announcement of Acuna’s new deal was what a bargain he could prove to be, should he build on his ROY performance like many predict. The 21-year-old made it clear he’s happy to have the security of the new deal.
Atkins said an organization’s risk is if the player doesn’t turn out as projected or an injury occurs.
“The upside is control and having certainty and not just the years of control but what you’re going to be compensating that player at,” Atkins said. “Obviously it’s attractive to all teams, and it’s occurring more and more and that’s an interesting topic as well, is why are those deals occurring more often than they used to occur?”
It’s still unclear when Guerrero will be making his MLB debut. The 20-year-old has been dealing with a Grade-1 oblique strain he suffered during a spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 8, and has been advised not to rush his recovery.
Atkins said Toronto is committed to long-term development and building the best core possible.
“The question isn’t around his (Guerrero) offence,” Atkins said. “The question is in around maximizing the player that he can be and ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to challenge him to be the best overall player. How good can he possibly be at third base, and how long can he be excellent at third base? And you bring a player to the major leagues and that’s not absolute, then it becomes a lot easier to move him off third base in a hurry.
“We want to have the most well-rounded and complete player as possible, but we’re not going to wait for that. We’re going to do the best of our ability to balance that.”