Blue Jays: Roberto Osuna’s arbitration case is a tough call

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 10: Roberto Osuna
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 10: Roberto Osuna /

Roberto Osuna and Marcus Stroman are the only two Blue Jays that are set to go to arbitration, and the former’s case is an very interesting one.

The Blue Jays were able to get most of their in house contract work done last week, settling with Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar, Aaron Sanchez, Devon Travis, and Dominic Leone prior to the arbitration deadline. Two situations were left unresolved at this stage, with both Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna set to go to arbitration, assuming neither works out an extension with the Blue Jays before then.

For Stroman, it’ll be his second straight year of heading to arbitration and once again the sides aren’t that far apart. The pitcher won the case last year when he asked for 3.4 million compared to the club’s offer of 3.1, and they’re roughly $400,000 apart this time, filing at 6.9 and 6.5 million respectively. The situation didn’t appear to cause any friction last year (granted, Stroman won), and the hope is that things will work out in a similar fashion this year as well.

For Osuna, it’ll be his first go around in arbitration, and he’s set to receive a big raise no matter what happens. He earned just $552,400 last year in his third season in the league, and has filed for 5.8 million against the Blue Jays’ offer of 5.5 million. As I said, a five million dollar raise or more will be nothing to sneeze at either way, especially for a young man who won’t turn 23 until February.

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Some fans and writers would argue that the Blue Jays shouldn’t be squabbling over $300,000 with their star players, and in some cases I would agree with that standpoint. However, I look at Osuna’s situation a little differently, and I think that’s the case for a few different reasons.

First and foremost is the whole debate about how much money a team should invest in their bullpen, and more specifically their closer. Baseball has enjoyed a shift in philosophy in recent years, with many organizations opting to load up in their bullpen, and investing heavily in shutting down the back half of a ball game. We’ve watched super-bullpens get built in places like Kansas City, New York, and more, and correspondingly the salaries have increased for valuable contributors. Whether the Blue Jays like it or not, Osuna will only get more expensive as he continues through his arbitration years.

However, if the Blue Jays want to hang on to Osuna for several more years, the easiest way to justify that is to try and keep his salary as reasonable as possible. Not every team is willing to pay a premium for a one inning pitcher, and the Blue Jays haven’t been jumping at the chance to pay for bullpen help in recent years, opting instead to take flyers on guys like Joe Smith and J.P. Howell.

There’s no doubt the Blue Jays are willing to pay 5.8 million for a pitcher as valuable as Osuna now, but how are they going to feel about it when his salary climbs to 10 million? How about 15, or 20 million? If that sounds ridiculous, check out this link from Sportrac which lists the highest paid closer’s in baseball. Topping the list is Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees at 20 million in 2018, followed closely by Wade Davis, who signed a new deal with the Colorado Rockies this offseason, and will early 16 million this season.

If Osuna continues to grow and develop as he has over the first three years of his young career, he’ll be in line to become one of the highest earning reliever’s in the game at some point. However, that also brings me to a second point.

Despite the fact that he finished the 2017 with a very respectable 3.38 ERA, 39 saves, and an All-Star appearance, it was a trying year for the Mexican hurler. He was lights out for nearly the entire first half of the season with a 2.06 ERA, and then found himself struggling badly after the All-Star break and posting a 4.97 ERA in 29 appearances.

Temporary struggles happen with pitchers at times, especially ones that are barely old enough to buy beer in the United States, but when it comes to relievers it’s a little more concerning. Don’t get me wrong, I have a ton of faith in Osuna and I believe his future is bright, but if he flamed out in the next year or two, he would hardly be the first reliever to have that happen to him. It’s a volatile position, which is why some teams are reluctant to spend big on the area whether it’s viewed as having increased importance or not.

Fortunately the gap between the player and organization’s salary figures isn’t that far for now, but the 2018 season will go a long way in determining Osuna’s contractual value going forward. Unless something unforeseen happens, he’s set to be a tremendous bargain for the Blue Jays once again this year, even if figuring out the proper compensation is a little complicated.

Next: Beware of the message in the arbitration process