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Opinion | The Jays might be closer to the World Series, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is no closer to a long-term contract

A case could easily be made that an off-season of change has impacted Vladimir Guerrero Jr. more than anyone else in the Blue Jays clubhouse.

To improve their run prevention, the Jays have made a series of moves this winter to upgrade the starting rotation, bullpen and defence. Along the way, the lack of balance in a predominantly right-handed-hitting lineup was addressed, too.

The cost to make it all happen went well beyond money. It involved parting ways with multiple players, including outfielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández — a pair of key contributors from last year’s squad who also happened to be two of Guerrero’s closest friends.

If he holds any resentment toward the Jays front office following the off-season makeover, he certainly wasn’t showing it Friday afternoon during a stop in Toronto for the club’s winter tour.

While Guerrero stopped short of saying the new-look Jays are better than the ones who took the field a year ago, he seemed at peace with Hernández and Gurriel being sent packing, despite their close relationship.

“It’s part of the business, you know?” Guerrero said through an interpreter shortly after visiting students at Humewood Community School. “I can’t control that. Obviously Teo and Lourdes are great friends of mine, great players, but it is what it is. On the other hand, I just welcome our new guys and try to make them feel good.”

That might not sound like a ringing endorsement for the flurry of moves, but it’s still a noticeably different tone than the one José Bautista used to take as the face of the franchise. When the Jays did something Bautista didn’t like, either in contract talks or personnel moves, he made sure everyone knew about it.

Whether it was speaking out about the lack of deals at the 2014 deadline or questioning why the Jays traded away his friend Jose Reyes for Troy Tulowitzki, Bautista was never shy about letting his feelings known. Ambiguity wasn’t his thing — just ask any umpire.

On the surface, Guerrero appears to be the opposite. The 23-year-old almost certainly has opinions; he just never airs them publicly. He barely said a word when the Jays moved him off his preferred position at third base, and while others took issue with former manager Charlie Montoyo’s lack of communication, Guerrero never appeared to join those calling for his ouster.

Guerrero doesn’t care much for headlines, or making arguments through the press. He just wants to play, and is more than happy to leave off-the-field problems for someone else to figure out. And after stating last spring that 2021 was the trailer and 2022 was going to be the movie, that policy might be extended to making predictions as well.

“It’s going to be different, a lot different,” Guerrero said of his club’s new style of play after adding outfielders Daulton Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier. “I think speed wise, we’re going to be faster. Defence, homers, it’s going to be a more complete team, but we’ll see.

“I can’t tell you (if we’re better) right now. We have to go out there and see what we can do now. But we’ll see, we’ll see.”

Guerrero’s reaction to the off-season was going to be noteworthy regardless of whether it was positive, negative or noncommittal. With only three years of team control remaining before free agency, his level of happiness needs to be top of mind for a franchise that is supposedly intent on keeping him around long term. Everything he says carries weight.

If Guerrero had been dead set against trading away Gurriel and Hernández — and figured to air his grievances publicly — the front office would have been foolish to finalize the deals. But the Jays know Guerrero as well as anyone, and it stands to reason they knew he would be open minded to change if the plan made sense. Winning, after all, trumps everything else.

Guerrero appears willing to give it a shot, but the bigger question is whether he believes in the franchise enough to sign long term, and whether the Jays are prepared to make the sort of financial commitment it would take to get a deal done.

The two-time all-star expressed a willingness toward the tail end of last season to discuss a multi-year contract extension with the Jays, but with spring training less than a month away, those talks apparently have yet to take place.

“Like I always say, I’m going to let my agent and my team work very hard on that,” said Guerrero, who also announced his intention to represent the Dominican Republic during the World Baseball Classic in March. “This year we haven’t had the conversations yet, but I’m going to just stay focused on working hard and helping my team.”

Jays fans can take comfort in the fact that their star player appears on board with the team’s grand plan, even after two of his best friends were shown the door.

What would put the fan base more at ease, though, is a long-term contract that ensures Guerrero will be wearing the blue and white for at least another decade. As of Friday, a deal like that still wasn’t in the cards, and it remains anyone’s guess when or if that will ever change.

Keeping Guerrero happy and getting him signed to an extension should be two of the Jays’ top priorities. The first part seems to be going well despite the off-season moves. The second has yet to gain any traction at all.


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