MLBPA keeping an eye on Blue Jays possibly manipulating Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.’s service time

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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On Tuesday, Blue Jays GM said on MLB Network Radio about super-prospect and third baseman Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., “I just don’t see him as a major league player.” It was seen as a precursor for Guerrero — son of the Hall of Famer who played for the Expos — to begin the season in the minors for the first two weeks or so of the regular season, a common theme with baseball’s top prospects. MLB Pipeline deems Guerrero the No. 1 prospect in baseball ahead of Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Eloy Jiménez.

The way service time works, teams are incentivized to hold their best players in the minor leagues for the first 10 games or so. In doing so, the player is unable to accrue a full year of service time, which means the team gets to control that player for an extra year, delaying his eligbility for free agency. Typically, a player’s first three years in the majors are known as “pre-arbitration years,” which results in being paid the league minimum or slightly above. Then a player has three years of arbitration eligibility which typically sees the player make a significant jump in salary. After six years, a player finally becomes eligible for free agency.

Technically speaking, teams are not allowed to fudge with their players’ service time, as they would be acting in bad faith. However, intent is notoriously difficult to prove, so teams skirt around the issue by making up nebulous reasoning to keep a star prospect in the minors. Usually, the representative says the player needs to work on his defense. That’s what the Cubs said about Kris Bryant in 2015 when they had him start the year at Triple-A despite torching minor league pitching in 2014 and follow up with an even more bonkers spring training showing. Bryant said he saw three ground balls in games before he was called up to the majors after the cut-off that granted the Cubs another year of control over him.

Service time manipulation has gotten more and more attention, especially as teams have become more brazen about it. The MLBPA is keeping an eye on the way the Blue Jays handle Guerrero, Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun reports. Longley’s source with the MLBPA said, “It’s something we are following and it’s going to be an issue. Service time manipulation has been a prominent theme that the players association has emphasized in its talks with Major League Baseball.” The source added, “It’s fair to say it has been a prominent issue raised by the players association.”

Guerrero, 19, decimated the competition last season, batting an aggregate .381/.437/.636 with 20 home runs and 78 RBI in 408 plate appearances in the minors. He has done nothing but hit since he debuted in professional baseball at the age of 17. Some players certainly need to stay in the minors to work on certain skills; Guerrero, however, is not one of them. Take Juan Soto as a recent example of a 19-year-old who can handle major league competition. Soto posted a 1.218 OPS in 39 minor league games last year, prompting the Nationals to call him up to the majors. Soto went on to post a .923 OPS with 22 home runs in 116 games, finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year balloting.

The Blue Jays are in the middle of a rebuilding process, so the front office is not exactly champing at the bit to rush Guerrero to the big leagues and start his service time clock. They weren’t motivated to call him up when rosters expanded in September last year, either. The front office is perfectly content to watch Brandon Drury man third base in 2019. Jays fans, however, may not be enthused enough to buy tickets or tune into games the way they did when the club was contending.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.