Don't blame Ross Atkins for the league's mistakes
You don't have to be a Toronto Blue Jays fan to understand just how frustrating the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. situation is. It's been painfully evident since well before Vladdy Jr. walked off the Cincinnati Reds in Montreal, that he is more than ready to handle the competition in the Major Leagues.
So why is it that one of the leagues best prospects of the past few decades is expected to start the year in AAA once again? According to Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins "Vlad Guerrero Jr. is not a Major League player right now... not yet." This quote, taken from Atkins' interview with MLB Network Radio, set off many of fans not only in Blue Jays nation, but across all of baseball because well.... it's just not true.
You could tell there was something special with Vlad's hitting ability when at just 17 years old, he managed to put up a .271/.359/.449 slash line for the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Rookie Appalachian League. He tacked on 8 HRs, 46 RBIs, 12 doubles, and 3 triples in 62 games to complete the impressive season.
Things got even more ridiculous last year as Vlad skyrocketed all the way from High A ball to AAA over the course of the season. His craziest stat line came from his 61 games at AA. Over that span of games, Vlad sported an astounding slash line of .402/.449/.671 with 14 HRs, 60 RBIs, and 19 doubles.
One of the more underrated things about Vlad is his ability to not strikeout, along with his ability to take walks in high level ball so far. In 30 games in AAA Vlad managed to walk 11.7% of the time, and struck out in a career low 7.8% of his at bats. His vision is tough to match even by the best players in the game. To put those numbers into perspective, in Mike Trout's only season in AAA he walked in 11.8% of his at bats, and struck out 17.2% of his at bats.
Obviously his size and weight is a concern early on, with plenty of talk concerning to how it may effect his ability to play third base at the major league level. Strictly from the eye test however, his ability to take ground balls, and his mobility to either side, seems to me like he will be a more than serviceable third baseman defensively. It will be major benefit to him to play for an AL team that can allow him to play 3B, 1B, and DH on any given night.
Those numbers are incredible, there's no denying that. So why is it that the entire Blue Jays organization is trying as hard as they possibly can to convince the world that he isn't ready? You can blame that on the most recent collective bargaining agreement and the service time rules involved.
The current CBA states that a player who spends at least 172 days on an MLB team's active list is credited with a full year of service time. Once a player accrues six years of service time they are eligible to enter free agency and sign elsewhere.
In Vlad's case, the argument was that you could've brought him up at the beginning of last season to help the team contend. If Ross Atkins and the Jays decided to bring him up to start last year, then he then becomes a free agent after the 2023 season. Alternatively, if the Jays wait just three weeks into this MLB season, then Vladdy won't reach the 172 days required to hit a full year of service time, and will then become a free agent in 2025.
Given the state of the franchise both last season and this season, it makes no sense to waste two years of service time just so we can watch Vlad crush baseballs. Last year, even if he was the best player in all of the MLB, Vlad would've added just 11 wins to a lineup that finished 35 games back of first place. This season, things look to be eerily similar, and thus, there is once again no point in having Vlad in the line up.
In 2025 however, given the current make up of this team, the team may actually contend for a playoff spot at the very least. With so many high level prospects on the way up, it makes much more sense to have him, along with a few other prospects, under team control when they are 24 to 26 years old and in the prime of their career.
This brings us back to Atkins and the rest of the management staff. If it's this clear that the Blue Jays are manipulating the service time rules of not only Vlad, but the rest of their prospects as well, then why do they continue to feed the fans clear an obvious lies? For the answer to that, we don't have to look any further than 2015 and the controversy surrounding the Cubs' Kris Bryant.
Back in 2015, Bryant was the far and away number one prospect in baseball, and it was evident that was more than ready to play major league ball. Despite this, Bryant found himself back in the minors to start the year. Three weeks into the year Bryant was called up, and proceeded to win rookie of the year, and finish seventh in MVP voting. What followed is exactly why the Jays need to be careful.
In April of that year, Bryant filed a grievance against the Chicago Cubs stating that they manipulated his service time in order to delay future free agency. If he were to win that case (and if Vlad were to do the same), then the free agency date would be pushed forward to where the arbitrator believes he should've been called up.
For Aktins, it's simple math. Vehemently deny the fact that you're completely screwing around with this kid, and you're much more likely to win any legal battles that may happen to go against you. Tell the truth now, and the last year and a half will be for nothing and you wasted a full season without Vlad.
You can't blame Atkins for what he's doing. If you were running a business, and I told you you could have incredible success for two extra years, at the cost of being average for a year and three weeks, then obviously you would do exactly what he is doing.
The problem herein lies with the MLB, the MLBPA, and the current CBA. After seeing what has happened to guys like Bryant, Maikel Franco, and our own Vladimir Guererro Jr., it is clear that something needs to change in order to save a bit of the integrity of the sport. The onus is on all parties involved to make sure that no future phenoms have to deal with this again.
For now, however, Jays fans can still enjoy Vlad crushing baseballs in spring training until they send him down. Also, if you're really itching to see him live in action, you could always take the quick trip across the border to see him play in Buffalo (if that's where they decide to send him). For now, I'll leave you with this incredible video of his walk off homer in Montreal in last season's exhibition games.
See you soon Vladdy.