DUNEDIN, Fla. – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is generally cautious with his words when the cameras are rolling, eschewing bold proclamations and bound-to-go-viral comments for the safe and uncontroversial.
Still, there’s some hype-man flare behind that familiar high-wattage grin, and that broke through Thursday with a catnip-for-social quip that was nearly immediately transformed by the media-meme-machine into a club mantra for 2022.
“What we did last year was the trailer,” Guerrero replied Thursday when asked about the possibilities for his Toronto Blue Jays this season. “Now you guys are going to see the movie.”
Cue all the fire emojis the internet can muster, as his words barely hit Twitter before they were everywhere. People immediately picked up on the movie analogy – horror, comedy or epic adventure? – and broke out the finest gifs in the metaverse. Even Major League Baseball jumped in via its official Twitter account, using his words to build out a movie poster, sponsor logo included. From locking out players a week earlier to leveraging them in a flash.
Clearly, though, Guerrero’s words connected, and there’s no doubt the just-turned 23-year-old knew what he was doing. He wore a mischievous grin as he spoke in Spanish and when interpreter Hector Lebron laughed at the line, gave him a go-ahead-and-say-it nod.
Guerrero knows that as well he can break pitchers’ souls with his ability to turn around the best they have to offer, he can break the baseball internet when he wants, too.
Now, it’s important to note that rather than trolling, this really was Guerrero cleverly encapsulating the feeling around the Blue Jays.
They missed the playoffs by just one game last year despite a first half mired by bullpen collapses plus home games in Dunedin and Buffalo, and didn’t really take off until returning to Toronto on July 30.
Guerrero came of age during a .311/.401/.601 season with 48 homers, 111 RBIs and 123 runs scored and if not for the two-way wonder of Shohei Ohtani, he would easily have been the AL MVP.
And that was a beginning rather than an end for him.
“He was almost the MVP, but the funny thing about it, there's more in there, right?” is how manager Charlie Montoyo put it. “He can have even a better year offensively, and that's not easy to say with those numbers that he put up, and then get better at first base. He can always get better at first base. You're going to see that.”
Yet when asked for specifics, Guerrero reverted to his cautious ways.
In what ways can he get better?
“Definitely I am going to try to do my best to help the team make the playoffs,” he answered. “I really believe that's the goal not just for me, for everyone here.”
In looking at the roster, what changes will help the Blue Jays get there?
“We're all on the same page in that aspect,” he replied. “I don't think it's (about) the roster. It just more our mentality that we have this year. We all want to make the playoffs and that's what we're working for.”
To that end, the Blue Jays’ experience last year offers plenty to draw from.
A hot streak that coincided with their return to Toronto gave way to a cold spell at the plate that nearly undid that progress in the second half of August. A run of 13 wins in 15 games to begin September put them back in control of their fate before a 3-4 road trip through Tampa Bay and Minnesota left them clinging to the mountain’s edge. A 4-2 final week left them the one game short, with Guerrero watching from the dugout as the Boston Red Sox rallied to beat the Washington Nationals and secure their playoff berth.
All that drama will only serve the Blue Jays well this summer, George Springer believes.
“You learn how to recognize when stuff is starting to go wrong, you learn how to recognize when stuff is starting to go right. You learn how to stay even keel,” he explained. “These guys, a lot of them, that was their first full season and hadn't gone through that at the major-league level where it's expected that you perform and play well. To understand the position we were in the end of July or early August, to going through a little bit of a slide but then to get back on the other side of it is always good.
“The more things that get thrown at you, the better. Now, when we lose four or five in a row at some point this year, a lot of people will know how to handle it, we'll know what to recognize and how to stop it.”
The roster changes will help.
Adding Matt Chapman, who was due to arrive in Florida on Thursday evening and join the Blue Jays at the Player Development Complex on Friday, dramatically tightens up the infield defence.
Starting the season with a rotation of Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Hyun Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah and Yusei Kikuchi is a night-and-day leap from the uncertainty they began with in 2021. Remember Tanner Roark and T.J. Zeuch opened in that rotation?
Jordan Romano is now an established closer, Tim Mayza is a daunting set-up man, Yimi Garcia, whose arrival at camp isn’t expected until Tuesday due to visa issues, adds experience, Trevor Richards and Adam Cimber are stabilizing forces and an array of power arms, from role-to-be-determined Nate Pearson to will-he-be-healthy Julian Merryweather offer plenty of options. David Phelps, Shaun Anderson and Kyle Johnston are all non-roster invites on the radar.
More moves are likely, too.
Even after a swath of left-handed hitting position players came off the market – the Blue Jays bid on each of Joc Pederson, Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson before they went elsewhere – there were a handful of-ilk trade options in play for them.
Hence, the Blue Jays are starting much closer to the spot where they finished last year than to the place where they started it. In that sense, 2021 could very well be seen as a trailer for the full movie of 2022, just like Guerrero said.