The Toronto Blue Jays’ issues with pitcher Aaron Sanchez and his agent Scott Boras over salary expectations are nothing new in MLB circles.
There’s a lot of chatter about Scott Boras and Aaron Sanchez in Toronto Blue Jays circles of late.
For those not in the know, the uber-agent, who signed Sanchez during the offseason, had some not-so-nice words for the Jays about their handling of Sanchez’ latest contract. According to CBS Sports the Jays offered Sanchez a modest salary increase for the 2017 season. He was not pleased with the amount, apparently citing his blowout performance – 15 wins and 2 losses with a 3.00 ERA – as proof he deserved more substantial compensation. The Jays, in a position of power over a pre-arbitration player three years into the bigs, slapped his hand for having the gall to believe he was worth more and set his salary at the league minimum of $535,000. This action, said Shi Davidi, is a policy the Jays have had in place for 10 years running.
Boras effectively went off, telling Sportsnet, among other things, that the move was the, “harshest treatment any team could provide a player.” Really?
Deja Vu All Over Again
This may be new to the Toronto Blue Jays, but Boras’ actions are not new to MLB. Every Spring Training he seems to be making noise about some “harsh treatment” one of his clients receives from their teams. In 2015 it was the audacity of the Cubs to even consider not adding Kris Bryant to the opening day line-up. And in 2016, his target was the Pittsburgh Pirates – a team with which I have a bit of history.
Boras had the same fit, for the same reason, about Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole. Coming off of an All Star 2015 season where he put up 19 wins and just 8 losses with a 2.60 ERA, apparently both player and agent were expecting a merit-based bump in salary.
The numbers were only slightly different in 2016. Cole, who was pre-arb, was given, and accepted, a $7,000 raise above the league minimum. At the time, Boras told Pittsburgh’s TribLive, “What kind of message does that send to players?…The best deserve the best. You should reward the best.”
I’m all for rewarding players for performance above and beyond. I applaud the carrot and stick method of motivation. In fact, that was what the Pirates were doing when they gave Cole, the number 1 draft pick overall in 2011, an $8 million signing bonus when he joined the team in 2011. Likewise, I’m not saying that Sanchez isn’t deserving of a raise. I’m not saying that he didn’t blow the roof off of Rogers Centre with his performance last season.
Learning from the Past?
However, Boras needs to look to the past to better manage his clients’ future expectations. He seems to continually be barking up the wrong tree with this approach. He screams about how unfair teams’ compensation plans are, stirs up a hornet’s nest of bad feelings and bad press in his wake, and in the end it’s for naught.
He told Sportsnet, “[The Toronto Blue Jays] not only have a very antiquated or substandard policy compared to the other teams for extraordinary performance, but if you don’t accept what that low standard is, they then have the poison pill of saying, you get paid the minimum.”
Antiquated or not, it’s a policy that we now know, just from his clients alone, two MLB teams use. If he knows the policy, why advise his client against accepting the raise, however modest it is? Did he think that the outcome would be different for Sanchez than it was for Cole? Someone please, remind me, what’s the classic definition of insanity again?
Watching this unfold for a second year in a row, I can’t help but be a little superstitious. After all of the hullaballoo in Pittsburgh over Cole’s salary in 2016, the Pirates’ ace had a forgettable season. He spent more than two months on the disabled list, with a triceps muscle strain in June and inflammation in his elbow in late August. He did set some career records – but not the kind a player getting close to arbitration wants. He won a career-low of 7 games and lost a career high of 10 games, ended the season with a 3.88 ERA – the highest of his MLB career. His wins above replacement was 1.6, compared to 4.5 the season before.
The poor performance and the injuries, of course, are things that happen in baseball. Players have bad seasons, players get injured. But to have that happen on the heels of such indignation about merit-based bumps in salary…well, I’m going to squeeze my eyes shut tightly and hope for the best for Aaron Sanchez this season.
It should be noted that in 2017, Cole’s first year of arbitration eligibility, he and the Pirates settled on a one-year, $3.75 million contract. That is lower than the $4.2 million projected by Matt Swartz and MLB Trade Rumors’ in their popular Arbitration Tracker, but not so much lower as to set off any warning bells. For someone so angry that his client wasn’t “rewarded for a special season” the year before, it’s surprising that Boras didn’t force an arbitration hearing to ensure Cole got what he deserved in 2017.
No Bridges Burned, Yet…
So, what does this mean for Jays fans worried that Boras’ bloviating could impact a players’ relationship with his team? You should rest easy. After all was said and done, the Pirates and Cole were able to get to a number both sides found satisfactory without bringing in an outside party and entering into the nastiness arbitration is said to entail. So maybe the same will be true for Sanchez when he and Boras sit down with the Jays to discuss salary in 2018. It seems that time (and in Cole’s case perhaps a good dose of recency bias) has a way of soothing even the most irate of agents.
For his part, Sanchez told Paul Hagen with MLB.com, he’s keeping his head in the game. “We just had a disagreement, and I want to leave it at that. There are no hard feelings between [general manager Ross Atkins] and I, between me and this organization. It’s time to go play baseball, really. All that other stuff isn’t relevant to me.”
*Featured Image Credit: Bradley Park UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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