Once the regular season starts, we’re going to begin covering baseball news around the week. Every day, one story about something else going on in the league. If it can be tied to the Giants in any way, that’s great, but it won’t be necessary. It’s the result two factors: the Giants will probably be tough to watch and the content monster can never be satisfied. That means this post probably won’t be the only time on this site where we talk about the Blue Jays manipulating Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s service time to maximize team control.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Blue Jays plan to manipulate Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s service time by keeping him in the minor leagues for the first 2-3 weeks of the 2019 season so they can gain a magical seventh year of team control. Toronto’s GM Ross Atkins made the claim that at 19 years old, Guerrero Jr. — who had 20 home runs and a 1.073 OPS across all four minor league levels last season and 3-season minor league career OPS of .943 with 40 home runs in 95 games — just isn’t ready for the majors yet.
I’m sure Ross Atkins is just doing his job, but... what’s his job exactly? Oh, right, to make the team money. It used to be that general managers and baseball ops people at least had the artifice of being in it for the sake of competition. Now, it’s a naked display of asset management and corporate sociopathy by everyone who doesn’t spend most of their day in the clubhouse.
“That’s great! That’s why I watch baseball!” some of you might say, but that’s not why I care about baseball. Winning and losing is a really important part of my interest in watching competitive sports, and when a cadre of middlemen suddenly decide that the real competition is in SPSS analysis and not what’s on the field I get a little... mad. Which is really the only choice fans have in the matter — either be mad about teams intentionally not trying to compete or not be mad about seeing harsh reality reflected in our hobby that was supposed to distract us from it.
So the Blue Jays will gain an extra year of team control before Guerrero Jr. hits free agency and they don’t have to pay him some exorbitant sum of money to retain him. What’s the point? There’s no evidence that the Blue Jays will or will try to be better in the future — why play Guerrero Jr. at all? Why even have him on the roster?
Now, the straw man in my head might say:
Oh Bryan, you big dumb idiot, he’ll only be down for a few weeks. Besides, the Blue Jays aren’t going anywhere this season and they’re in the AL East — they’ll never be able to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox, or even the Rays — what’s the rush?
But I don’t think that’s too far from something a real Online person might say. And I think that idea’s right. If it’s impossible to compete, then why bother? Why would the Blue Jays even bother manipulating his service time if competing in their division is impossible? Oh, because in 3-4 years that might not be the case? Ross Atkins might be a perfect hatchet man / general in Mark Shapiro’s army during tanking time, but what happens if the Blue Jays suddenly stumble into a competitive window? There’s every chance that his years of mealy-mouthed try-notting and spreadsheet porn habits will have warped his brain and made him unable to see the forest for the trees.
Mark Shapiro did manage to build up an organization in Cleveland that somebody else was able to get over the hump and into the World Series the year after he left to join Toronto, and I can certainly make a Ross Atkins-level baseless claim that Cleveland’s success was because he left. Although, when you look at what that team has done this offseason, it looks like they’re trying to emulate Shapiro’s reign in Toronto.
Look, it’s not all about this one player. Service time manipulation is just a symptom of a larger problem: it’s cheaper and therefore better for teams to simply not try anymore. In 2019, Toronto, Cleveland, Seattle, Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit, Texas, Marlins, Pirates, Giants, and Diamondbacks are either rebuilding or intentionally “taking a step back” and have either added few major leaguers to their roster in the offseason or traded some of their key players away. That’s 40% of the league.
When there’s still a projected 10+ wins out there on the free agent market after the start of Spring Training, it’s hard not to look at the situation and see it as a net negative for us. Fans might “root for laundry”, but most are rooting for that laundry to win baseball games, not exercise financial prudence for some mythical future where everything’s amazing because everyone’s young, cheap, and controllable.