Olney: Blue Jays reaching ‘tipping point’ on Guerrero’s future
The Toronto Blue Jays’ Game 2 elimination against the Minnesota Twins was a microcosm of their 2023 season as poor base running, a lack of timely hitting, and poor bullpen management resulted in a second consecutive sweep in the wild-card series.
The game will be remembered for two events: the removal of starter Jose Berrios after just 47 pitches and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. getting picked off at second base with Bo Bichette at the plate to end a potential fifth-inning rally.
ESPN MLB Insider Buster Olney discussed Guerrero Jr. on TSN’s First Up on Tuesday, explaining that, with just two more seasons before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, the Blue Jays are reaching a critical decision point on the slugger's future with the club.
“Vlad, with his salary climbing through arbitration, is reaching the tipping point,” said Olney. “This is where teams begin to say, ‘We can start to replace this.’ I do think this is going to be the winter where you can start to have this conversation as he starts to near free agency.”
The 24-year-old first baseman made $14.5 million last season and will likely see a raise in his third year of arbitration despite a disappointing season at the plate where he hit just .264 with 26 home runs. Olney compared Guerrero’s situation to that of 2019 MVP Cody Bellinger and his eventual exit from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
While Guerrero did not reach the lows that Bellinger did in his final season with the Dodgers, when he hit just .210 with 19 home runs and 68 RBI in 2022, Olney said that Guerrero’s one-dimensional skill set is a significant factor the Blue Jays will need to consider when deciding his future in Toronto.
“We’ve seen it with Cody Bellinger with the Dodgers. He had some struggles, and, by the way, Bellinger is a much more rounded player than Vlad is. He’s an excellent defender and he runs the bases, but when his salary got up to $17.5 million per year and he had some struggles, the Dodgers had a conversation about non-tendering him,” said Olney.
“Then he followed up his 2021 struggles with more struggles [in 2022] and they wound up cutting bait before he got to free agency. They said ‘No, we just can’t pay the player because he’s not productive enough.’ The Mets are having the same conversations about Pete Alonso right now. These corner infield sluggers that don’t bring a range of skills. Vladdy is a hitter, he’s not a great defender, obviously not a big base runner.“
The Dodgers let Bellinger walk and he had a resurgent season with the Chicago Cubs, hitting .307 with 29 homers and 97 RBI. With the Jays in approaching a similar crossroad, Olney said the Blue Jays cannot let Guerrero Jr. walk for nothing if they are unwilling to commit to a long-term contract. While he did not say the club is actively trying to trade the first baseman, Olney did say that Guerrero’s performance over the past two seasons has created a difficult decision for the future of the once generational prospect.
“If you aren’t going to sign him to a big, massive contract, you don’t want him to walk away and get nothing in return,” said Olney. “You want to make sure you get some value in return, 75 cents on the dollar or whatever it is, if you don’t feel like you’re going to invest in him. Based on what happened the past couple of years, it would be pretty hard to throw $150 million at him.”