Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. suffered some right knee soreness while running the bases during a Spring Training game on Friday, and an MRI revealed minor inflammation but no structural damage. Manager John Schneider told reporters (including MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson) that Guerrero is “just doing treatment today and staying off of his feet,” in the hopes that the short rest will help correct what appears to be a relatively minor issue for now.
Unfortunately for Guerrero and the Dominican Republic’s national team, however, the timing of the injury occurred just before Guerrero was preparing to join the D.R. club in advance of the World Baseball Classic. As a result, Guerrero has pulled out of what would have been his first WBC appearance. Naturally, Guerrero and the Jays don’t want to risk further injury under any circumstance, and especially not since the full extent of Guerrero’s knee problem isn’t yet known.
Guerrero is perhaps the cornerstone of a Blue Jays team that hopes to contend for a World Series title in 2023, and the two-time All-Star is looking to rebound in some sense from his 2022 campaign. While Guerrero hit .274/.339/.480 with 32 home runs in 708 plate appearances in 2022, this 132 wRC+ performance still represented a step down from his 166 wRC+ in 2021. Guerrero hit .311/.401/.601 with 48 homers in 698 PA that season (leading the league in OBP, slugging percentage, and home runs) and finished second in AL MVP voting behind Shohei Ohtani.
As Matheson notes, Brandon Belt and Cavan Biggio are the top choices to fill in at first base if Guerrero has to miss any significant time, though Belt hasn’t started yet started playing spring games. Coming off a pair of injury-shortened seasons, Belt was being brought along slowly, and the Blue Jays intended to use him primarily as a DH this season with Guerrero locked in at first base. Whit Merrifield also has a bit of experience at first base, albeit with only 15 big league games at the position over his seven MLB seasons.