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Inbox: Could Toronto extend young stars?

Beat reporter Keegan Matheson answers fans' questions
@KeeganMatheson
October 18, 2020

With only the World Series standing between us and the 2020 offseason, the Blue Jays expect to be busy soon as they work to address their starting rotation and positional depth. Coming off a 32-28 season and a brief postseason appearance, this is the offseason that Blue Jays' fans have

With only the World Series standing between us and the 2020 offseason, the Blue Jays expect to be busy soon as they work to address their starting rotation and positional depth.

Coming off a 32-28 season and a brief postseason appearance, this is the offseason that Blue Jays' fans have been waiting for. The rebuild years are in the past, with the club's sole focus on winning in 2021. With money to spend, Toronto can afford to be aggressive in this unpredictable market, too.

Here's what's on your minds as we get the offseason rolling:

Do the Blue Jays take a page out of the Braves' playbook and lock up their young stars to multi-year deals? The Braves locked up [Ronald] Acuña Jr. and [Ozzie] Albies for eight and seven years, respectively, at a team-friendly salary. -- Nolan C.

This would make sense for a few different reasons and I’d expect the front office to explore doing so, whether it be this offseason or in the years to come. Besides, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are familiar with the practice from their days in Cleveland, where Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes all signed extensions before their arbitration years were up.

Granted, Toronto’s young core of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Nate Pearson are younger, which creates greater levels of risk and reward. In the past, Shapiro has referenced finding the “sweet spot” where both sides are comfortable taking the risk, which is important to consider, too. While a player can guarantee himself more money by signing an early extension, he also needs to consider whether he's limiting his potential future earnings.

When it comes to risk levels, these young players are very different. Bichette is a franchise cornerstone and has shown elite upside that the Blue Jays, relatively speaking, can bank on. Biggio lacks Bichette’s ceiling, but is a solid player who fits their philosophy perfectly and brings more value as a leader than many realize.

Guerrero brings more unknowns at this point. How will his body hold up over the next year, let alone the next eight? Is he strictly a first baseman? Will he be an elite hitter, a great one or just very good? The Blue Jays have time, and one or two winters down the road, perhaps some of those questions have been answered.

The Blue Jays are open to Guerrero seeing some reps back at third base in 2021, but let’s not rewrite history. Guerrero was a poor defensive third baseman in 2019, period. The athletic upside is there with his quick feet and strong arm, but fundamentally, he looked in over his head.

First base wasn’t much better this season, but he deserves more time to adapt and a full Spring Training could do him wonders. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. Guerrero was never going to provide much surplus value as a defender, so even if he can be an average glove at first base, his offensive potential should be more than enough to carry him.

Which pitchers could we possibly be after, and can we get a center fielder? -- Faber M.

Off the top, expect the Blue Jays to be involved on Matt Shoemaker, Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray, all free agents after the 2020 season. Otherwise, the pitching market is topped by names like Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman (not happening), Masahiro Tanaka, Mike Minor, Jake Odorizzi, José Quintana and Canadian James Paxton. Right-hander Kevin Gausman could be an upside play after a strong season with the Giants, and old friend J.A. Happ is still rock steady as he turns 38. The Blue Jays will also thoroughly explore the trade market.

Toronto would love to find a stud center fielder, but that’s like saying an NFL team would love to find a star quarterback. It’s a crowded, expensive market. Unless 2020 first-round Draft pick Austin Martin sees some developmental time in center, the club’s prospect system is thin at that spot, too. Randal Grichuk was a bright spot there defensively in 2020, so I’d expect to see him back in center in '21.

Where do you see Trent Thornton in the future? Is he worth it? -- Daniel L.

In 2021, Thornton is a starter competing for a job. He looked great in Spring Training, so it will be interesting to see how he looks with a healthy elbow come February. He’s earned every opportunity to stick as a starter, but tuck his name away as a dark-horse candidate for a high-leverage bullpen role a couple years down the road if starting doesn’t work out.

There will be a fair argument to start Alejandro Kirk in the Minor Leagues for more work on his defense, but development can still happen in the bigs. Kirk’s bat is clearly ready and, frankly, I fear for my Twitter mentions if Canada’s favorite athlete is left off next year’s Opening Day roster.

Keegan Matheson covers the Blue Jays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.