Blue Jays: Arbitration will be expensive this offseason

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 13: Marcus Stroman
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 13: Marcus Stroman /

The Blue Jays have several significant players that are in arbitration eligible years, including Josh Donaldson’s final turn, and their big three of young pitchers in Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna.

The Blue Jays got a jump start on their offseason on Wednesday when they announced the contract extension for Marco Estrada. The change up artist was re-upped for one year and 13 million, representing the average AAV of his last two year contract he signed with the Blue Jays before the 2016 season.

The front office has to be happy to get that decision out of the way, as it gives their rotation some much needed security for 2018. Estrada and Marcus Stroman were the only starters to pitch the entire year without avoiding injury, and their inning contributions have been badly needed for a tired bullpen. Having some cost certainty will be helpful for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, as they’ve got several decisions to make, both with players on their current roster, and also with potential free agent additions.

Speaking of on-roster decisions, they’ll be facing some interesting cases in arbitration this year, assuming things get that far. Josh Donaldson enters the final year of arbitration and control for the Blue Jays, and will be looking for a significant raise from the 17 million he made in 2017. The Blue Jays could look to extend his contract for more than one year, but it’s likely that someone of Donaldson’s calibre will be interested in testing the open market. It’ll certainly be a situation worth monitoring, but look for him to earn somewhere in the range of 22-25 million if it comes down to a one year deal.

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Marcus Stroman earned a raise to 3.4 million for the 2017, and he had to win an arbitration case with the club to get that salary. Hopefully both sides will be able to avoid that scenario this time around, but there’s no doubt that the young star has a case for a significant raise. One of the best recent examples I could find was Garrett Richards of the Angels, who made 3.2 million in 2015 and  got a raise to 6.4 million for 2016 (then got hurt, unfortunately). In 2015, Richards had thrown 207.1 innings and finished with a 15-12 record, a 3.65 ERA, and made 32 starts.

If I were a betting man, I would guess that the Blue Jays will use Richards as a comparison for their argument, and look to offer their talented starter something around 6.5 million. Stroman’s camp will argue that he’s worth more in 2018, and that his 3.01 ERA in 2017 (as of this writing) is worth more than what Richards had produced. There could be interest in a multi-year contract, but I would guess that Stroman’s agent will be looking for at least 7-8 million for his client.

Aaron Sanchez is an interesting case, as he earned just $535,000 in 2017, after making $492,420 in 2016 in a year when he won the American League’s ERA title. There’s no doubt that he and his agent Scott Boras would like a significant raise this time around, but unfortunately there aren’t many positive talking points for them to take to arbitration. Still, I would expect Sanchez to get something in the range of 1-2 million, based on his 2016 performance alone. If he can get healthy and get back to that level of performance in 2018, his future salary will skyrocket in a hurry.

Lastly I’d like to point to Roberto Osuna, as he was a bargain in 2017 regardless of how you feel about his performance. Sure, he’s leading baseball in blown saves, but he’s also posted a career high of 37 saves so far, and has been unstoppable when he’s been on his game (and the opposite when he’s been off). It’s been a Jekyl and Hyde season, but there are plenty of positives to point to for the 22 year old.

He earned just $552,400 in 2017, and enters arbitration for the first time. Trevor Rosenthal is the closest comparison I could find for Osuna, as he was a dominant closer with the St. Louis Cardinals earlier in his career. Rosenthal entered arbitration for the first time in 2015 and saw his salary shoot up from 535,000 to 5.6 million. In 2015, he had recorded 48 saves and posted a 2.10 ERA in his age 25 season, and even earned an All-Star berth.

Osuna hasn’t quite posted those numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his agents ask for a similar range. I’m purely speculating here, but I would expect the two parties will settle somewhere between 4.5-5 million.

There should be some room to play with in free agency, as the team will shed a few contracts, such as the 18 million dollar investment in Jose Bautista. Others like J.P. Howell and Jason Grilli’s 3 million each are off the books, so hopefully the front office doesn’t balk at any opportunities that present themselves this offseason, even with the pending arbitration raises they’ve got to consider.

Next: Looking ahead to the free agent pitching market