Blue Jays: Beware of the message inside arbitration

TORONTO, ON - MAY 30: Josh Donaldson
TORONTO, ON - MAY 30: Josh Donaldson /

The Blue Jays have settled with several key free agents including Josh Donaldson at 23 million, and other notable veterans. However, for the second consecutive year, the club will go to arbitration with Marcus Stroman.

The news wire surrounding the Blue Jays has been a little more active this week, mostly with in-house agreements with names that were on the roster in 2017. Mostly notably was the agreement with Josh Donaldson for one year at 23 million, his final year of arbitration before becoming a free agent. There were also significantly smaller agreements with the likes of Aaron Sanchez, Devon Travis, Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera, and more.

Unfortunately the front office was unable to work things out with every player eligible for arbitration. Roberto Osuna will go to arbitration for the first time, as he filed for 5.8 million against the Blue Jays’ offer of 5.3 million. The other significant name was Marcus Stroman, who filed for 6.9 million in his second go around with arbitration, while the club countered with 6.5 million as their offer.

Every contract can and should be evaluated on it’s own, but there are two very telling situations in the batch of situations. First and foremost, it felt like the Blue Jays made a borderline overpay for Josh Donaldson, which may or may not be a good will gesture that helps in working towards a longer term agreement. MLBtraderumours had the 2015 AL MVP projected at a figure of 20.7 million for 2018, so the Blue Jays certainly surpassed that amount. Whether or not the two sides continue to work on a longer extension remains to be seen, but it can’t hurt the relationship to have paid a little more in the immediate term.

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On the flip side, Marcus Stroman has filed for arbitration for the second time, and once again the two sides aren’t that far apart. There’s a big picture argument for dealing with arbitration from the front office’s perspective, but Stroman’s situation over the last couple of years has been interesting to say the least.

In the immediate term, the charismatic right-hander has filed for $400,000 more than what he’s been offered from the Blue Jays. It may not seem like a big deal in a vacuum, but I’m personally left wondering if it’s becoming a bone of contention for either side as negotiations have developed over the last two offseasons. A similar situation played out in 2017, with Stroman filing for 3.4 million against the Blue Jays’ offer of 3.1 million, which ultimately worked in the former Duke University’s favour. It’s certainly a shame to see the contracts be so close and not resolve without help from the arbitration process, but it’s also not that simple.

From the Blue Jays’ perspective, every dollar more they give Stroman now will eventually result in a larger price tag as he continues through arbitration. Three or four hundred thousand may not seem like a big deal at the moment when you’re talking five or six million, but that could eventually equate to a million or two more, which makes a difference in a hard payroll situation. While it’s not ideal, it’s understandable why the Blue Jays would offer Stroman less than what he and his agent are seeking.

At the same time, you have to wonder what kind of message they’re receiving as well, especially as they’ve watched Josh Donaldson arguably get “overpaid”. It’s entirely possible that the Blue Jays are interested in working out a longer term extension with the HDMH (Height Doesn’t Measure Heart) ambassador, and maybe this whole arbitration conversation becomes a moot point in the near future. At the same time, you have to wonder if squabbling over four hundred thousand will ultimately work against the Blue Jays when it comes to Stroman, who has shown the potential to be among the American League’s best.

With so many variables at play and so many decisions to make, the job that sits before Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro is most definitely a difficult one. They not only have to navigate the potential free agency of Donaldson, but also the long term situations of Stroman, and others like Osuna and even Aaron Sanchez. That’s definitely a double edged sword, and navigating the contract commitments to their talented young players will be something to keep an eye on in the coming years.

In the immediate term, here’s hoping that going to arbitration for the second consecutive year with Stroman won’t have any effect on the relationship between the two parties, especially in the wake of the big Donaldson deal. Stroman is and will be a crucial piece to the Blue Jays’ future success, so the club will have to be aware of the pitfalls of arbitration, and make sure that “their guys” know how valued they really are.

Next: Blue Jays also avoid arbitration with Pillar and Leone