Blue Jays’ Guerrero Jr. looking forward to setting arbitration record win or lose

Toronto Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reacts to flying out against the Detroit Tigers in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 8, 2023, in Detroit. (Paul Sancya/AP)

TORONTO (AP) — Although he’s never gone through the process before, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doesn’t seem too unsettled about the possibility of his 2024 salary being decided by a three-person arbitration panel.

That’s probably because whether Guerrero wins or loses, the Blue Jays slugger stands to set a record for the highest salary ever awarded in arbitration.

Guerrero has asked for $19.9 million and been offered $18.05 million, meaning he’s guaranteed to top the $14 million former Toronto teammate Teoscar Hernández received from Seattle after Hernández lost his hearing last year.

“I feel very happy,” Guerrero said through a translator in an interview to promote his appearance on the cover of the 2024 edition of the video game MLB The Show.

“I feel even more happy because he’s my good friend, and now I can give him a hard time about it,” Guerrero said.

Guerrero and Hernández were Blue Jays teammates for four seasons, reaching the playoffs together in 2020 and 2022.

A three-time All-Star and the reigning Home Run Derby champion, Guerrero said he’s made some minor mechanical adjustments to his swing this offseason after a second straight year of declining productivity. He set career-highs with 48 home runs and 111 RBIs in 2021, then followed up with 32 homers and 97 RBIs in 2022. Guerrero had 26 homers and 94 last season.

“I improved my mechanics to have as little movement as possible,” Guerrero said. “To the naked eye, you might not even notice. I can tell the difference because I can feel it.”

Toronto earned its second straight wild card and third in four seasons but did not win a game in any of those October appearances. Toronto scored just one run in a two-game sweep at Minnesota, extending a playoff drought that dates to 2016, when the Blue Jays lost 4-1 to Cleveland in the AL Championship Series.

After missing out on Shohei Ohtani, the Blue Jays have been quiet so far this offseason, adding former Gold Glove winners in outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and infielder/outfielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The Blue Jays have a pending $13 million, one-year deal with third baseman Justin Turner.

“I’m happy with the team,” Guerrero said. “I’m concentrating more on my game and making sure I’m putting my best foot forward.”

Toronto had made bigger changes in its coaching ranks, moving Don Mattingly from bench coach to offensive coordinator, hiring Carlos Febles as third base coach and DeMarlo Hale as associate manager, and promoting Matt Hague from Triple-A Buffalo to serve as assistant hitting coach.

Guerrero said he has high hopes for a bounce-back season from right-hander Alek Manoah. The 2022 AL Cy Young Award finalist was demoted to the rookie-level Florida Complex League last June after going 1-7 with a 6.36 ERA. Manoah went 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA in seven starts after rejoining the big league roster in July, then didn’t pitch again at any level after being optioned to Triple-A in August.

“I’m excited for his return,” Guerrero said. “Obviously he’s had his lows and his highs as a pitcher but he’s always giving it his all, and I really like that about him.”

After Toronto’s playoff exit last October, general manager Ross Atkins said Manoah had received an injection to relieve discomfort in his shoulder, and that multiple tests had revealed no structural damage.

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