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Jays slugger Guerrero Jr. says 'no hard feelings' with team after arbitration case

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The Toronto Blue Jays used different approaches when it came to the delicate matter of salary arbitration with their two homegrown franchise cornerstones.

A year ago, shortstop Bo Bichette and the team agreed to a three-year deal that ensured the two sides wouldn't go through a process that can sometimes be unpleasant. The club was unable to work out something similar with first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who won his arbitration case earlier this month.

The good news for the team is the slugger appears to be in good spirits at the team's development complex as preparations continue for the upcoming season.

"It's part of the business, so no hard feelings," Guerrero said Tuesday, via interpreter Hector Lebron, in his first public comments since the decision.

Guerrero was awarded US$19.9 million when a three-person panel picked his request over the team's offer of $18.05 million. He was on hand in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the hearing while the Blue Jays' case was presented by a lawyer.

The team's decision to go the arbitration route was somewhat eyebrow-raising given the risk for potential acrimony that could impact future contract talks.

The 24-year-old first baseman, who earned $14.5 million last year, is under team control for two more seasons. Unless his contract is extended, he'll become eligible for free agency after the 2025 campaign.

While it can be difficult for some players to hear why their team doesn't feel they're worth the requested salary, Guerrero said he's aware of how the parties had to approach the proceedings.

"I understand it's part of the process for both sides," Guerrero said. "In the end, you turn the page and it's all good. I'll be ready to go in '24."

The three-time all-star has produced strong offensive numbers since his rookie season in 2019. His best year came in 2021, when he finished second in the American League MVP race after hitting .311 with 48 homers and 111 RBIs.

His numbers have slipped over the last two years. He hit .264 last season with 26 homers and 94 RBIs.

When asked about the relationship and the potential for hurt feelings, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said it's up to him and the team — "not on Vladdy," he said — to make sure the arbitration was "behind us."

"I do acknowledge that it's not an easy process," Atkins said at the recent MLB media day in nearby Tampa, Fla. "These are stressful things to go through. We would love to avoid that but money isn't just the solution. There's a process that's in place that we have to be respectful of. We tried hard to avoid that hearing. We do not like going to hearings and would rather not be in a hearing with any player.

"Having said that, it's in place for a reason and when the gap is too big, we have to be respectful of that process."

Guerrero, who said he had a conversation with team brass after arriving at camp, has been his usual smiling self at camp this week.

He looked trimmer upon arrival after adjusting his workouts in the off-season. Guerrero said he feels like he did during his career year in 2021.

"I believe I had a great off-season," he said. "I achieved all the goals that I wanted to achieve."

Guerrero also said he used a different mental approach three years ago, one he plans to return to for the upcoming campaign.

"I'm not going to think about anything, mentally-wise, about putting up numbers," he said. "I think it might work out. Maybe the same numbers (as '21), maybe better."

His bio lists him at six foot two and 245 pounds, but Guerrero appeared lighter than that on the first full workout day with all position players now in camp.

"It just allows him to be a little bit more durable and be a little bit more fresh every single day," said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. "He plays a ton.

"So I think really taking ownership of that this off-season and showing up the way he did is exactly what we were hoping for."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2024.  

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