The Toronto Blue Jays have 8 players who have filed for arbitration, each with varying degrees of expectations. We look at each case.
The clock has been started. Sort of. The arbitration process can take a long time, or not. The first step in the process is players filing. That has been done according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet:
8 #BlueJays officially filed for arbitration today: Cecil, Chavez, Delabar, Donaldson, Hutchison, Loup, Saunders, Storen
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) January 13, 2016
Now that that has been done, the team will respond by submitting its desired numbers on Friday, January 15 and then hearings will be set for February. Now, none of this means that the schedule is set for negotiations. We shouldn’t take the players filing as a sign of troubled times ahead. The whole time, the club can talk to each player in an attempt to sign them for 2016, or beyond, if the deal is right. But, if the case(s) go to arbitration, each side presents their number and case and one is chosen. There isn’t a middle ground.
And, that is where each case becomes a different animal. Michael Saunders and Josh Donaldson have equally interesting cases, but for totally different reasons. The same can be said for Drew Hutchison. Below is a brief look at each case. We’ll be using MLBTR’s 2016 arbitration projections for this exercise.
Josh Donaldson: The Bringer of Rain is set to see one of the biggest pay jumps in arbitration history. He could top Chris Davis and his previous raise of $7.05M. He’s expected to see $12M from his $4.3M salary in 2015. Under Alex Anthopoulos, we know that the club would have gone to arbitration rather than look at signing the MVP to a long term deal. The new Blue Jays regime might want to do the same thing. Sometimes, when a player dominates the way Donaldson did in 2015 and there is 2 years remaining in arbitration, you might consider extending him.
But, there are a few reasons why the Blue Jays might not want to. Firstly, while he is going to make a significant raise in 2016, he will still be paid a fraction of what he would fetch on the open market. The discount they’d be getting on his services might be too tempting to pass up. So, perhaps they simply follow the relatively modest increases in pay over the next two years that arbitration would bring. The other factor is Donaldson’s age. He’s 30 now and will be a free agent at 32. The Blue Jays are already getting his prime years. Could they simply keep him for the next two seasons and then let him walk as a free agent (who would likely reject a qualifying offer, thus net the club a draft pick)? No one would complain about looking to extend Donaldson, but you could see why they just bide their time.
Brett Cecil: Expected to earn $3.4M, Cecil is another guy who represents a significant deal in comparison to the open market. This winter, we’ve seen the cost of bullpen arms soar. In possibly his final year as a Blue Jay, Cecil’s raise is only a hike of $900K. He will turn 30 this summer and has established himself as one of the top relievers in baseball thanks to that devastating curveball. The idea of hitting free agency surely will be tantalizing for him. The Blue Jays may want to consider making him an offer that locks him up for longer. Given the state of the open market, it could be worth the time…and money.
Jesse Chavez: In 2015, Chavez earned $2.15M and is projected to see $4.7M this season. He’ll be a free agent in 2017 at age 33. It is not a good age to enter free agency, but given his versatility, he could fetch a 2 or 3 year deal. However, the Blue Jays will likely let him test free agency. This is a guy they are paying for 2016 without an eye to the future. And, that is OK. He’s an option for the “long man” role as well as a possible 5th starter.
Michael Saunders: Of the 8 players, Saunders is the most intriguing to me. He’ll be a free agent in 2017. He made $2.875M in 2015. He effectively lost the season to a sprinkler head induced knee injury. He made the choice to remove over half of his meniscus in the hopes that he’d heal quicker and establish himself. 2016 could go a long way to doing that. But, he’s not expected to see a significant raise at $2.9M. And, if he is healthy and can even be the 2 win player he was in 2012 and 2014, this will represent significant value. IF.
Steve Delabar: Delabar has seemingly been on the outside of the Blue Jays preferred arms. He’s been passed up for call ups despite looking to have earned it. He just might be the most affordable option in this list. He’s 32 and won’t be a free agent until 2019. MLBTR expects him to earn $700K in 2016 (which is much more than he would have made if he were still a teacher). He’s an interesting case because he is out of options. If the Blue Jays try to send him down to AAA, he’ll be subjected to waivers where other teams looking for an affordable arm with a tantalizing fastball (if it can be controlled).
Drew Hutchison: #HutchShow had his struggles in 2015. Yet, thanks to an elite offense, he still went 13-5, which will help him in arbitration, though the 5.57 ERA will not. Making the league minimum in 2015, he’s expected to see a jump to $2.6M. This seems high for a guy who is on the outside of a rotation spot. Some are calling for him to spend time in AAA to get himself right. He has the ability to be an effective starter, which will keep him in the organization; he’s just too tantalizing. He won’t be a free agent until 2019, so there is lots of time for the Blue Jays to capitalize on his potential, if he can turn things around. Otherwise, he’ll be an expensive Bisons starter.
Aaron Loup: The good thing about a reliever being like a roller coaster is that it has the potential to keep his cost down. Loup is such a reliever. He has shown flashes of effectiveness that led to him being relied on more than most. In fact, it was not too long ago that Loup would have been John Gibbons “go to” option. But, with other (more effective) weapons in the bullpen, Loup can be used more sparingly. The Blue Jays are getting him in the prime of his career. He is 28 and won’t be a free agent until 2019. Making the league minimum in 2015, he’ll see a significant raise for him, but one that will not cripple the club. MLBTR thinks he’ll get $900K. Again, given the cost of bullpen pieces, this is more than acceptable.
Drew Storen: The newest Blue Jay will come to his new club and enter the potentially nasty business of arbitration. He is 28 and will enter free agency at the end of the 2016 season. Think he isn’t looking forward to that? So, the Blue Jays will likely just get the one year out of him. He made $5.7M in 2015 and is expected to see $8.8M in 2016. His arbitration case will be buoyed by his save totals form the past. The same reason the club traded Ben Revere for him will be the same reason they will have to pay up for his services. Given his past success, his age and the cost of closers, this is one guy who the Blue Jays might want to think long and hard about extending long term. It’ll be a challenge as they’re up against the allure of free agency, but it might be worth their efforts.
Many see the arbitration process as a time where the club and players compete against each other over performance and the perceived value. Last season, the Blue Jays “beat” Donaldson and things seemed just fine. Baseball is a business, as all of the above will acknowledge. The Blue Jays now have to set about the business of coming to terms with the names on this list. It is a potential $36M period of time over the weeks to come. There are lots of angles, here. But, it is the cost of doing business.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III Under CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.