Why Blue Jays might regret playing hardball with Bichette contract

Jan 16 2023, 8:36 pm

Last week, the Toronto Blue Jays settled their contract figures for 2023 with nearly half of their Opening Day roster.

Toronto re-signed 11 players on Friday, including closer Jordan Romano, first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and catcher Danny Jansen.

The same can’t be said of star shortstop Bo Bichette, who is heading toward a salary arbitration hearing before the start of spring training.

Bichette’s camp reportedly asked for $7.5 million on a one-year deal, while the Blue Jays filed at $5 million on a one-year, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

The $2.5 million gap, per Passan, is the largest of any player in the league.

To keep it simple, Bichette will still be a Blue Jay this upcoming season: arbitration is a fairly common process in the careers of many MLB players, and Bichette’s 2023 salary will be announced most likely on or before February 17 following a yet-to-be-scheduled arbitration hearing.

Barring a long-term deal reached before then, Bichette’s salary will be decided via an independent, third-party arbitrator.

He’s not eligible to hit free agency until 2026, with the Jays still having plenty of time to sign him to an eventual long-term contract.

Maybe it’s just simply business ā€” both player and team trying to make their best financial decision in mind.

But it’s hard not to wonder if the Blue Jays’ front office is making a mistake that could come back to bite them in the future by their intentions of saving a couple million in the meantime.

Bichette has his warts, sure: even though he’s capable of highlight-reel plays, he’s overall a below-average fielder, evidenced by his -0.8 defensive Wins Above Replacement last season.

He’s also prone to frustrating at-bats: he had 155 strikeouts in 2022, second most on the Jays (behind Matt Chapman) and 23rd in the American League.

But he’s still a uniquely talented player at the plate, as he led the American League in hits in each of the past two seasons. Since he made his debut in July 2019, no player in the AL has more hits than Bichette’s 478.

There’s been ups and downs since he’s become a regular member of the Blue Jays, but it’s hard to find offensive talent quite like Bichette’s.

You can’t hit if you’re not swinging, and few players are more trigger-happy than Bichette at the plate.

“Fixing” his aggressive approach, as Jays’ fans commonly suggest, would have the possibility of simply making him a less effective hitter.

As for his defensive side of the game, that seems like something for manager John Schneider to figure out how to get the most out of Bichette’s game.

Would a move to second base, even part-time, have some long-term benefit for the Jays in the field? What if he’s best used as a designated hitter more frequently than he has been?

There are ways to experiment with minimizing Bichette’s defensive issues that Toronto has never really explored, as he’s only played 19 games as a designated hitter in his entire career.

Maybe he’s not the vindictive type, and will eventually happily sign long-term in Toronto despite the current contract stalemate.

But it’s quite the risk to take.

While they have managed their balance sheets like any other business, the only true goal of the Blue Jays’ front office should be winning the World Series at least once with this core of young players that includes Bichette, Guerrero Jr., Alek Manoah, and Alejandro Kirk.

A player as talented as Bichette probably isn’t the one to make an example of hardball negotiations.

As the old saying goes, lose the battle, win the war.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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