Bichette contract doesn't provide clarity about long-term fit on Blue Jays

Feb 8 2023, 9:06 pm

The Blue Jays and Bo Bichette are back together again (truth be told, they were never apart).

According to a report from Ben Nicholson-Smith and Sportsnet, the Jays and Bichette avoided arbitration and agreed to a three-year contract extension.

The terms are unknown, but the Blue Jays and their shortstop don’t have to worry about going to salary arbitration from hereon out, as much fun as salary arbitration court is.

This deal buys out Bichette’s final three years of arbitration, but still has him on track to hit the open market as a free agent at the end of the 2025 season. No word on an extension beyond the three years, but at least the Blue Jays have something set in stone with one of their key players.

It’s nice to have that cost certainty locked up for the foreseeable future, but the question remains; where do the Blue Jays and Bichette go from here? A long-term contract extension buying out some free agent years seems ideal, but these contracts are often easier said than done.

One big factor that plays into this is the recent influx of money for free agent shortstops. Over the last two years, the top shortstops on the market earned a whopping $1.562 billion dollars on the open market. Outside of starting pitchers, the shortstop spot is the next most lucrative position on the diamond.

Given how teams like the Atlanta Braves cornered the market on locking up their franchise figureheads to long-term contracts, it’s easy to see why many are clamouring for the Jays to do the same with Bichette and his counterpart, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

But as second generation MLB players, these guys don’t need to take the first offer that’s presented to them. They won’t be taking any hometown discounts with the Blue Jays, using the term “discount” loosely. In fact, they may walk as free agents to maximize their earning potential.

Guerrero Jr. is a bit of a trickier case because there’s less of a precedent for him, but for Bichette and his agent, there’s a clear yardstick to measure him up against. Teams have gone gangbusters the past two years for free agent shortstops.

Player Years Total AAV Age fWar/Season
Corey Seager 10 $325M $32.5 28 3.09
Trea Turner 11 $300M $27.27 30 3.95
Xander Bogaerts 11 $280M $25.45 30 3.42
Carlos Correa 6 $200M $33.33 28 3.91
Dansby Swanson 7 $177M $25.29 29 2.31
Trevor Story 6 $140M $23.33 29 3.55
Javier Baez 6 $140M $23.33 29 2.73

At the upper echelon, there’s Trea Turner of the Philadelphia Phillies who signed a 10-year $325 million deal with the Phillies at $32.5 per season. At the low end is Javier Baez, who snagged a 6-year $140 million deal with the Tigers at $23.33 per season.

Among the crop of shortstop contracts, that doesn’t even include the gargantuan extensions signed by Francisco Lindor (10 years at $341 million) or Fernando Tatis Jr. (14 years at $340 million). Heck, even the Rays spent some coin to lock up Wander Franco for 11 years at $182.

It’s easy to see why Bichette wants his piece of the pie. Whether it’s a contract extension by the Blue Jays or a prospective deal from one of the other 29 teams, he’s in line for a big payday.

At the very least, if Bichette opts to go to free agency at the end of 2025, he’ll have no problem getting a 6-year deal like Baez’s. But as MLB revenues continue to increase, the floor for a Bichette contract extension might start at $200 million.

Bichette’s poised to hit free agency at age 27, which puts him a year younger than any shortstop, which makes his asking price skyrocket even further. Teams value youth, which is why Trea Turner and Carlos Correa at age 28 have the highest AAV contracts of any shortstops in baseball.

Despite a streaky season from Bichette in 2022, overall his numbers looked solid for the Blue Jays. He’s now produced two 4.5 fWAR-plus campaigns in consecutive seasons, with the potential to hit that mark in 2023 as well.

ZIPS has Bichette projected for a 4.6 fWAR season in 2023, and if we modestly assume he posts 4.0 fWAR seasons in 2024 and 2025, that would put him around 3.49 fWAR per season for his career.

Relative to his peers, if Bichette hits the open market with a 3.49 fWAR per season under this belt, he might expect a similar payday to Xander Bogaerts, which just received $280 million over 11 years from the Padres.

A lot can happen over the course of the next three years, but on this current track, can expect somewhere in between Bogaerts and Correa money on the market. Whether that comes from the Blue Jays remains to be seen.

There’s also the possibility Bichette isn’t a shortstop three years from now, either. Defence hasn’t always been his strong suit, as evidenced by his 31st overall ranking on the Outs Above Average leaderboard for shortstops in 2023, and his -16 defensive runs saved.

If there is a position change in the future for Bichette, that could drastically affect his earning potential as well. If recent history tells us anything, there’s a high premium on shortstops in free agency, although teams will surely covet Bichette for his bat over his glove.

This is all part of the calculus the Blue Jays and Bichette must consider in any potential contract extension considerations. It’s hard to imagine Bichette moving off the shortstop position anytime soon, but for now, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep him on shortstop and hope he develops and improves on the defensive side.

The Blue Jays kicked the can down the road another three years, which seems like an eternity from now. But the longer the team goes without a long-term deal for guys like Bichette and Guerrero Jr., the more likely it could be they test the waters of free agency.

Ian HunterIan Hunter

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