The Toronto Blue Jays were on the butt end of a lot of bad press last year because of how they handled Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s service time. With the 2020 season potentially being canceled and an agreement in place regarding MLB player’s service time, the extra year of control may now be a significant blessing in disguise.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was not just the top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization last season, he was the top prospect in all of baseball. Known for his eye at the plate, raw power, and strong-arm at 3rd base, Blue Jays fans knew that Vladito would be making an appearance on the MLB stage at some point in 2019.
As the 2019 spring training was just starting up, fans were already calling for Guerrero Jr. to make the opening day roster. This was a tricky scenario for Blue Jays management, mostly because of the impact this scenario would have on Guerrero Jr’s service time and salary cap control further into his career.
To summarize, if Guerrero Jr. was to make the opening day roster, the Blue Jays organization would only have 6 years of control over their star prospect due to the number of days he would’ve been on the MLB roster (a player gains a full year of service if they spend 172 days on either the MLB injured list or active roster). One way to gain an extra year of control is to call up the prospect towards late April when the player in question cannot mathematically accumulate enough service time to gain a full year (the 172-day requirement).
This ‘trick’ the Blue Jays used is a loophole in the current CBA agreement and is a method that has been used by multiple organizations across the leaguer but also has been met with hostility from both the players and their representation in regards to reaching free agency and more money at a later time in the player’s career. A good example to follow is how the Chicago Cubs handled Kris Bryant in his rookie season (which you can read here).
The Toronto Blue Jays got lucky last season when it came to Guerrero Jr., as the star prospect would end up injuring his oblique during a spring training game at the start of March, missing multiple weeks and having to start the season in the minor leagues to become game ready.
This was the ideal scenario for Blue Jays management because they now had a motive as to why Guerrero Jr. was not on the MLB roster to begin the season and could understandably hold him past the 172-day deadline so that he could not accumulate the necessary service time for a full season.
While the Blue Jays fans were practically begging Blue Jays management to call him up as soon as possible last year, with the 2020 season now on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the extra year of control is starting to show its benefits.
The 2020 MLB season is currently on hold until further notice due to the virus, with potential for the season to open up during sometime in May as a ‘best case scenario‘. While this idea nowhere near set in stone, the player’s service time and salary payments have already been discussed and agreed upon by both the players and the MLB owners.
As of right now, the players are still acquiring service time, similar to if they were still playing baseball on a regular schedule. This allows the players to not lose the valuable service time they would have acquired if the season was still being played like normal but also gives the owners some financial flexibility when it comes to paying players who technically aren’t playing and protecting themselves from any potential lawsuit in the future (a more detailed note can be found here).
Now, because the Blue Jays gained the extra year of control over Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last season, if the 2020 season was to be completely canceled (which is entirely possible given current situations), the organization will have their prize prospect for an extra year. Vladdy will now become arbitration-eligible in 2022 and become eligible for free agency in 2025, instead of 2021 and 2024 (respectively) if he were to begin the season on the opening day roster last year.
While this may not seem like a huge deal, considering the Blue Jays are a particularly young team full of other top prospects like Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Nate Pearson, any chance the organization can save money in the future is a positive situation.
These particular players will all become arbitration-eligible within the next few years and at the same timeframe (give or take a year or two), and if they keep performing similar to their projections (everyday players to star type caliber), they will all be requiring some significant cap space to keep them all in a Blue Jays uniform. There may even be a situation where one or two players may have to be dealt to protect the salary cap based on how much the Rogers owned organization wants to dish out.
While it may have seemed like a bad move at the time, the Toronto Blue Jays have essentially helped their rebuilding aspirations by gaining that extra year of control over a star player that may not even swing a bat this year. Other teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers may not even get to use their prized new player Mookie Betts because of the service time agreement for the 2020 season (he will become a free agent next off-season).
In a game where service time is more valuable than gold, another year that the Blue Jays can hold onto a star prospect seems like a wise move at a time where a baseball season is in jeopardy of not being played.