Jonah Keri’s Blue Jays Mail Bag: When will we see Vladimir Guerrero Jr.?

Ben Nicholson-Smith joins the Jeff Blair Show to discuss the situation of the Toronto Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson, with the star player's recently re-injured calf, and what it means for the future.

From an April surge to seven games over .500 to May misery hurling them 14 games behind the division leaders, the Toronto Blue Jays have experienced a season’s worth of ups and downs in just two months.

What should we expect from them for the rest of the season? And when might we see You Know Who? Let’s see what’s on your mind, in the first 2018 edition of Jays Mailbag!

Most likely the latter. The Jays have had to deal with all kinds of injuries and lousy performances by their infielders, which has necessitated all kinds of quirky roster moves. Martin filling time at third to sub for Josh Donaldson is one thing. Starting his first career game at shortstop is quite another. Don’t discount Martin’s own ambitions either — the man’s been jonesing to chuck his catcher’s mask in favour of new challenges for years.

As for Martin’s trade value, no amount of Ben Zobrist-ing is going to make teams chase after a .165 hitter making $20 million a year.

…and this could be part of the thought process too. Martin’s signed through 2019, with an immovable contract. Meanwhile, Jansen’s hitting a huge .323/.433/.476 at the triple-A level, with more walks than strikeouts. And yes, Luke Maile isn’t the answer, with his early-season outburst dying down and his still sky-high .396 batting average on balls in play set for a sharp fall.

The Jays certainly have sexier prospects in their system, but calling Jansen up the day after the Super Two eligibility cutoff passes would be a logical move that would instantly make the Jays better. Bumping a team leader like Martin out of his natural position is another matter, though. The Jays might simply be unwilling to make a move that bold, this quickly.

…and here’s the sexiest of those sexy prospects.

What else can we say about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at this point? He’s batting a ridiculous .426/.474/.716. He has tape-measure power and never strikes out. He just turned 19 in March, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who’d argue Guerrero would be at least the second-best player on the major league roster the second he gets promoted to the Show … or maybe the best, if Donaldson’s 2018 struggles are more than a temporary glitch. Watching dynamic talents like Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto make big rookie contributions at similarly tender ages only reinforces the case for Vlad Jr. to get the call.

Ah, but then there’s the politics of it all. Should the Jays call up the best prospect in all of baseball before the Super Two deadline, a move that could cost them millions of dollars down the road? Should they call him up when the current franchise player happens to play the same position as he does? Should they give him more time to hone his defence, and make the other little adjustments that often take more than 47 games above single-A ball to make? Hell, should they consider the jolt of electricity and potential boost in attendance that Guerrero could give the team in the midst of what might otherwise become a forgettable season?

If only baseball executives could get to make decisions based on fun, more than any other factor. The first GM to promote a phenom prospect earlier than expected and say, “Dude’s awesome and we owed it to our fans to call him up” gets a huge tip of the cap.

Montreal Expos’ Vladimir Guerrero and his son Vladimir Jr. tip their caps to the crowd in Montreal on Sept. 29, 2002. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

You’d like to think that one shouldn’t have anything to do with the other. Guerrero, say, taking over the DH position from Kendrys Morales would look like the biggest upgrade in franchise history to Jays fans.

The bigger issue, though, is the erosion of Donaldson’s trade value. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the former MVP would have fetched a hell of a lot more last summer when potential suitors would’ve gained a year and a third of controllable service time, and harnessed Donaldson right before his bat rampaged its way through the league. Even shopping him last off-season looks a lot better when you consider that he’s hitting .234/.333/.423 this season, fighting injuries (again), and that he’s nowhere near the all-world defender he once was.

Again, this is the delicate balance that comes with running a major league team. How quickly do you shift strategies, when running a team that made the League Championship Series as recently as 2016? How heavily do you consider the revenue implications associated of trading your franchise player, when you’re coming off two straight seasons of leading the league in attendance, while facing an erosion in talent that will likely necessitate a retooling process, and possibly a complete rebuild?

At this point, the best thing that could happen to the Jays this season would be for Donaldson to start raking again, as soon as possible. Either that hot streak helps fuel a jump back into contention or Donaldson raises his trade value, giving the Jays a fighting chance to get the trade windfall they so need, albeit in as loaded a field of available third basemen as we’ve ever seen at the deadline.

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