The Lookahead: It’s ‘go time’ for Jays and Guerrero Jr. needs to prove worth

Time was already a-wasting for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., even before the reached an agreement on a six-year, $150-million deal with George Springer that will chew up $25 million per year for the next six seasons. If you’re counting, that’s one year after Junior hits free agency under the current collective bargaining agreement.


Guerrero still holds one of the keys to the 2021 season and, ultimately, Nate Pearson’s ability to be at worst a cost-effective No. 2 starter at some point in the next two or three years would really position this team for a run of extended success. Just think what the world will look like if Pearson has developed into an ace just as Hyun-jin Ryu’s deal runs out. Think of the possibilities.


But I don’t know if this can be put delicately: the acquisition of Springer and whatever other players and pitchers this front office brings in has forced the issue with Vlady Jr. We appear to be in “go time” for the Blue Jays, and nobody knows how exactly the soon-to-be 22-year-old fits into the picture. He’s lost weight and wants to play third base, and while everybody admires his initiative so far, results of his performance at that position in winter ball were mixed – to be charitable – and it sure seems as if the Blue Jays front office, which has been non-committal about Junior at the hot corner, is looking for an infielder who knows his way around third base. The idea of somebody such as Tommy La Stella or Didi Gregorius signing and fitting here and there should Vlady II end up at third – sharing time with Cavan Biggio or freeing him up to be a true utility player – is a possibility. But what if Guerrero ends up at first base? How is that going to work out with Rowdy Tellez, even if the Blue Jays do trade one or two of the outfielders made surplus to requirements by Springer’s signing?


Guerrero appeared in every Blue Jays game in 2020. They made the playoffs. But that was just 60 games – not 162 – and Guerrero was 120th in the majors in WAR at 0.2. Yeah, small sample size and all that. Still, there were nine similarly small-sample-sized Blue Jays ahead of him in the category – five ahead of him in offensive WAR. I mean, I’m being polite, here. I’m not even mentioning that it’s no longer outrageous to expect somebody who was the game’s top prospect to hit the majors running. Not everybody is the same. Not everybody matures at the same rate. But the fact is that players such as Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Ronald Acuna were all raking at that age. That’s his peer group, like it or not. Also a fact? The idea that the Blue Jays would at some point be Vlady Jr.’s, team is no longer a given. He’s not even the second in command to Springer. That would be Bo Bichette.






Here’s the thing: the game doesn’t wait for you forever, and even though Blue Jays ownership and its front office has laid to rest the criticism that they won’t step up and be counted, there is uncertainty out there as a result of what could be a second full year without measurable ticket revenue and a possible labour stoppage. At some point in time, we will need to discuss which of these young stars gets a big, multi-year deal that carries them through the rest of their arbitration years and steals a year or two of free agency. Yes, it will very much depend on what the new collective bargaining agreement does to arbitration and free agency and service time, but it will also come down to a decision: who convinces you they are worth a six or seven-year deal? Considering the way the Blue Jays have openly said they’re aware of Bichette’s sensibilities when it comes to adding a potential free agent who could play shortstop, considering the depth of commitment I’m told they have to Biggio and considering they don’t know yet what Vlady Jr. is, it’s pretty clear that 2021 would be a good time for him to start making an impression on the field.


THE LOOKAHEAD


Stuff you need to watch this weekend:


• Edmonton Oilers at Toronto Maple Leafs, Friday, 7 p.m. Let’s see if Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe decides against playing it “a little bit safe,” like he did in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Oilers. It’s the Oilers, Sheldon. No team in the North Division is as weak on the backend and in net. Let the boys play. Please.


• Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors, Friday, 7:30 p.m. You know what’s scary about this edition of the Raptors? They’re something they haven’t been in a long time: boring. They were flattered by the score in Wednesday’s nine-point loss to a Heat team without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro and, man, if they keep this up and turn into just another team (again!) they’re going to be a tough sell to free agents. Catch it on Sportsnet 590/The Fan


• Manchester City at Cheltenham Town, FA Cup, Sunday, Noon: Man City is owned by Abu Dhabi oil money and is the fifth-most valuable team in the world at US$2.69 billion. Man City’s chances of winning the Premier League were dealt a blow with the news that Kevin De Bruyne is out for six weeks, but they should be able to advance here without much of a problem. Cheltenham Town plays in the fourth tier of English soccer. Man City will be using the club bar at 7,000-seat Jonny-Rocks Stadium as their locker room to comply with COVID-19 protocols. Bottom’s up, fellas. The team is selling “virtual tickets” to raise funds for the match. Manchester United and Liverpool will play their tie later in the day, but this? Nah, this match is what the FA Cup is all about. Catch it on Sportsnet Ontario/West/World.


• Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers, NFC Championship, Sunday, 3 p.m. Yeah, I know: yadda, yadda, yadda Bills Mafia. While the rest of you are all excited about jumping on to tables and breaking them – which is idiotic even by the low standards of NFL fandom – I’m more interested in seeing whether Tom Brady can continue to rack up points in the “Was it him? Or Bill Belichick? debate. It’ll be fun, as well, to see if Aaron Rodgers takes this chance to stop apologizing for not being Brady, too. I got Packers and Chiefs, not that you should care.






FAIR OR FOUL


• Fair … wondering whether Raptors head coach Nick Nurse needs to cool the carping at officials. Hey, nobody is as tough on NBA officials as I am, and having games played in empty arenas is going to remove the whole idea that the proximity of fans and the tightness of the court combined with the speed and size of the athletes makes it the toughest game to officiate. NBA officials have it easy compared to any sport with the possible exception of baseball. But leaving that aside — I don’t know. Between burying his players in the press and whinging at referees while his team is playing lousy basketball, I’m not sure the first month has been a great look for Nurse …


• Foul … rolling your eyes when you heard Auston Matthews and other NHL players talk about how there was something wrong with the pucks that were using “tracking devices” after the NHL announced they were ditching them due to performance issues. Tell you what: after hearing Aaron Sanchez and Buck Martinez spend a half-hour comparing the seams on two different baseballs as they stood in the Blue Jays clubhouse one Sunday, I have no doubt about it. None. I understand that holding a baseball is a more tactile experience than stickhandling a puck, but given how much time that extremely gifted offensive players spend with a puck on their stick – in off-season workouts as well as in practice and games – I’d bet players like Matthews can detect minute differences in weight and feel. These elite athletes are on a different planet to the rest of us …


• Fair … wondering about the length of George Springer’s contract and what the final few years of the deal will look like after four years of tracking fly balls in centre field on artificial turf. Luckily, by Dan Szymborski of Fangraphs put my mind at ease. Springer won’t need to hobble directly from centre field to DH, as Szymborski notes, he will retain enough value as a right fielder to delay that move. Remember: the Houston Astros used him in both centre and right, and the club’s radio analyst Steve Sparks says the latter is a better position for him. Having Springer onboard doesn’t preclude adding a left-handed bat to play centre in the next two years. One of Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. already has to go right now, and it’s already crowded at DH with Rowdy Tellez, and maybe Vlady, and Cavan Biggio, and Alejandro Kirk and God knows who else hanging around. But if this team wants to maximize defence and needs to blow up its outfield to add a stud starter …






THE ENDGAME


Another weekend, another MMA card and another opportunity for the sports sycophants to overlook the fact that UFC has an unparalleled culture of toxicity. This goes beyond Dana White’s unsurprising, open support of disgraced former U.S. President Donald Trump. White is just another businessman looking after his own pocket, or in this case the UFC’s. It also goes beyond the fact that some of the sport’s roots can be found in far-right, fascist notions and individuals. The Guardian’s on former MMA fighter Tara LaRosa’s involvement with the Proud Boys also includes a reference to Jorge Masvidal’s involvement in the pro-Trump “Fighters Against Socialism”. Meanwhile, Jacobin magazine has of MMA and its role in training used by police forces. Now, Jacobin’s ideological outlook isn’t what one would call “balanced” and its political slant will anger many. That’s not the point. The fact is, MMA fighters operate in a sphere and culture that wouldn’t be tolerated if, say, they were NHL, NBA or MLB. Something to think about if you’re big on cleansing out the detritus of the past four years by looking into every corner of the sports-verse. Although my guess is most MMA fans don’t care how the sausage is made. They’re happy not thinking about what they’re consuming.


Jeff Blair hosts Writers Bloc from 2-5 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan as well as Canada’s only national radio soccer show, A Kick In The Grass with Dan Riccio on Monday nights across the Sportsnet Radio Network.