Ferguson: Should Jays offer Lawrie a long-term contract?

Scott Ferguson
5/17/2013 10:51:55 AM
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There was a very interesting signing made by the Chicago Cubs earlier this week when they came to terms with their budding slugger, first baseman Anthony Rizzo on a seven-year deal worth $41 million, plus a club option for two more years that could keep Rizzo with the Cub through 2021.

Rizzo is hitting .277 with nine homers and 29 runs batted in and is considered one of the main centrepieces of a rebuilding franchise. But here's the catch. Rizzo came into this season with less than a full year of Major League experiece, playing parts of two seasons with the Padres and the Cubs after being drafted by Boston and subsequently dealt to San Diego as part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade.

If Rizzo continues to develop and blossom, this contract could be a bargain. There is a school of thought that since Rizzo won a battle against Hodgkins Lymphoma, a form of cancer, he felt it was better to secure his future now, rather than speculate as to what he could possibly make down the road, feeling nothing in life is truly guaranteed.

Clearly sending a message to their long-suffering fans, the Cubs earlier locked up shortstop Starlin Castro.

That brings us to the Blue Jays and Brett Lawrie. The Blue Jays high-octane third baseman is also 23-years-old and, like Rizzo, is in his third season in the Majors. Off to a slow start in part because of that rib cage muscle injury in the spring, Lawrie is only hitting .204 with four homers and 10 runs batted in. But his career numbers so far are remarkably similar to Rizzo's, hitting .268 with 24 homers and 83 runs batted in with a .762 OPS.

Over his career, Rizzo is batting .283 with 25 homers and 86 runs batted in with a .763 OPS. He has walked 62 times and struck out 142 times while Lawrie has walked 57 times and fanned 143 times. You might also argue Lawrie plays a tougher and more valuable defensive position.

So the question becomes, should the Blue Jays be offering Lawrie the same kind of contract the Cubs gave Rizzo, and would Lawrie even want to lock himself in at this point? There really are no definitive answers.

In the not-too-distant past, the Blue Jays tried to give their fans and possible free agents the same message the Cubs did to theirs by signing Vernon Wells and Alex Rios to significant long-term pacts. Neither worked out for the Blue Jays. Wells had injury issues and his production was up and down and ultimately he was traded to the Angels. Rios struggled with fan expectations, never lived up to what he was making and ultimately went to the White Sox on a waiver claim. Wells and Rios have both revamped their careers; Wells now with the Yankees and Rios still with Chicago.

The Blue Jays are under no pressure to sign Lawrie since he won't be eligable for arbitration until 2015 and can't become a free agent until 2018. What Lawrie needs to do first and foremost is to stay healthy for a full season and realize the plate potential he flashed when he broke in with the club late in 2011. At that point , he looked like a star in the making. John Farrell, and now John Gibbons, have felt that Lawrie has the potential to be one of the great third basemen. But now doesn't seem to be the time for the Blue Jays to go down the same road as the Cubs.

Important Stretch
The Blue Jays are entering a very important two-week stretch in their schedule. They've won a season high four straight games and have scrambled back to .500 for the month of May at 7-7. But they are still seven games under .500 overall.

Coming up, they have 10 straight games against the East, including three at New York this weekend against the division-leading Yankees, followed by seven at home, three against Tampa Bay and four against Baltimore. Going 4-6 or worse in these games is not an option. They need to go at least 6-4 to keep the momentum going and ensure they don't have a second straight losing month, which is usually the kiss of death.

The hitting has come around, but the big question mark remains the health and consistency of the starting rotation.

Great Deal
Last July 27th, Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin pulled off what may go down as one of the greatest trades in franchise history. He swapped soon-to-be free agent Zack Greinke to the Angels for three prospects. One of those three turned out to be 23-year-old shortstop Jean (Gene) Segura, who is having an incredible rookie campaign with the Brewers, hitting .353 with seven homers and 18 RBI's and playing some great defence. Making the swap even worse for the Angels, Greinke opted to leave as a free agent and signed with the Dodgers where he gives LA an incredible 1-2 punch with lefty Clayton Kershaw. I wonder how long until the Brewers sign Segura to a long-term deal?

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