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Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Blue Jays and Donaldson Avoid Arbitration, Blue Jays Fans Avoid Having To Hear Nonsense About the Club Daring To Take Donaldson To Arbitration

Josh Donaldson is the highest paid member of the Blue Jays! Finally!

Donaldson’s $23 million salary is a new MLB record for an arbitration-eligible player, and is not-completely-insignificantly higher than the $20.7 million figure he was projected to by MLBTR — something that Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet noted yesterday, tweeting that the projection “actually looks light to me and those I asked. Could be above $22 million.”

Most importantly here (not really), what this deal means is that this winter we won’t be treated to fear-mongering, dipshit-empowering silliness about the club daring to actually go to an arbitration hearing with their best player.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the greatest look for club with a payroll north of $150 million to squabble over a few hundred thousand dollars with an incredible player whose rightful salary, in an open market, would be much, much higher. It might even engender some hard feelings, too (though the process today seems to be considerably more dignified and professional than these things were in the old days, where it’s been put to me that “everything but the wife and kids” was considered fair game to bring up as cause to suppress players’ salaries). But whether Josh Donaldson signs an extension with the club — the actually important thing here — doesn’t really hinge on some sort of perceived slight that might come up through this process, nor does it respect Josh very much to posture like it might, as though he wouldn’t understand that it’s all just business.

What does this mean for a potential extension, though? Honestly, probably not a whole lot. I don’t think the fact that this deal is in place necessarily means that the Jays couldn’t come to an agreement with him on an extension that would rip up this $23 million salary for 2018, and give the club a little more financial flexibility in the near term — while also, of course, paying him every cent of what he’s worth. To me that would be the ideal scenario, though I’m not exactly holding my breath for it.

At least not until it becomes a littler clearer what his market next season actually might be.

Richard Griffin had a take this week in the Toronto Star about it, which I didn’t really agree with. He suggested that the Jays “could afford to sign” Donaldson to a multi-year deal “right now,” but claimed that “the Jays have not moved forward in a sincere effort to extend” him. I’m not sure what a “sincere” effort would look like, or how we’d know whether or not we’re seeing it, apart from actually getting his name on a contract — nor do I know where this notion is coming from, as no source on it is referenced, and in the sentences that fallows all we get is typical speculation on the will-they-or-won’t-they blow up the team kind of stuff. Frankly, though I maybe be being a little optimistic here, I think the move for Yangervis Solarte was a pretty clear signal that the club isn’t going to tear it all down and be bad for a couple years. The move to extend Marco Estrada last fall was one as well. So too were all the times Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have said that they weren’t going to do that.

Personally, I’ve started to see what they’re doing — or what I think they’re doing, and hope they’re doing — is trying to keep the floor high for when the Bichette/Guerrero wave starts to hit. Those two guys are not that far off, and if the club can keep the books in order for when they arrive, and the talent level on the big league roster high, it may not be long before they have something really special. That doesn’t mean not ever moving veterans for prospects, nor does it mean definitely signing Donaldson, it just means that the scary tear-down talk is probably misplaced this late in the game.

And what I think Griff’s piece is missing is really the key thing about this whole question: an idea of what Donaldson’s market next winter might be. Donaldson will be 33 when his next contract begins (practically thirty-three-and-a-half, some might tell you), and it’s not like teams won’t see that. I know the market will be more flush with cash than this one is, and that there will certainly be more teams out there willing to go beyond the luxury tax. But you look at what’s happening with someone like J.D. Martinez right now and you wonder.

Martinez is a guy who on Opening Day of this year will be 30 years and 9 months old — i.e. quite a bit younger than Donaldson’s 33 years and 4 months in spring 2019 — and though he isn’t nearly the player Donaldson is, he certainly has been very good, and he doesn’t have a draft pick attached to him (which, should the Blue Jays keep him through next July, Donaldson would). It’s a pretty crude comparable, but I guess the way I think about it is that, because of age Donaldson is probably not going to get a whole lot more than Martinez, but because of skill he’s probably not going to get all that much less. I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up in a similar ballpark — assuming Donaldson hits the open market after a healthy and productive age-32 season. But what is that ballpark? And maybe the better question is, how do you get both sides to agree upon what that ballpark should be?

Fans have an easy time with this sort of stuff. “Just give him what he wants and keep the greatest player (in terms of value per plate appearance) in franchise history!” But in reality it’s usually just not that easy — especially for a team like the Jays that can’t just paper over big money mistakes the way that the Red Sox or the Yankees can do. Even beyond that, the team can’t look at it the way fans do, because every dollar that they give to Donaldson that they didn’t have to is a dollar they could have used to make the team better somewhere else. Those sorts of things are important to the folks running things — as they should be. And, of course, on the other side of it, Donaldson, who literally has this one opportunity to truly make life-changing money for himself and his family for literally generations, can’t be expected to sell himself short.

Which is to say — and again I’m being maybe a bit hopeful here — that I’m not sure how much I buy the line that it might be a lack of want on the team’s part that’s keeping this from happening, but the sheer difficulty of figuring out a deal that works for both sides. That would be nice, at least! Because it means that perhaps with a bit more clarity on how this winter plays out, an actual number will be that much easier to come up with. I’m not holding my breath on an extension, but it could at least theoretically still happen, even with Donaldson now locked in for 2018. And in the meantime, we can at least look forward to enjoying watching one of the greatest players in the league once again next year — at least for however long he’s here — and feel good in the knowledge that he has inched this much closer to getting paid what his incredible talent is worth.

  • TGreg

    I’m trying to recall if there have ever been any players who settle on arbitration in their final year and then proceed to sign a long-term deal with the same club … it’s certainly not common, but seem to recall that it’s happened. While I’d like to think this doesn’t preclude a deal, I do think it’s a fair bit less likely now.

  • Teddy Ballgame

    “…especially for a team like the Jays that can’t just paper over big money mistakes the way that the Red Sox or the Yankees can do.”

    Well, they *could,* it’s just that the current ownership group chooses not to.

    It’s 100% within Rogers’ rights to keep the Jays on a budget, especially as a publicly traded company. And I’m certainly happy that the budget is healthy and doesn’t seem set in order to ensure the Jays got a hearty slice of the “have not” pie like in the past. But if Rogers wanted to be the kind of owner that plastered a big wad of money over roster mistakes, they surely have the resources (and market) to do so.

    • They’d need to make the business case for operating that way, which is certainly difficult to when Rogers just sees the value of the team as being in equity and cheap TV content. They don’t care about the on field product being good, they care about the bottom line being good, and if those two things intersect, great, if not, I don’t think they’re terribly bothered by it. So… I don’t think you’re wrong that they theoretically *could*, but I think this way of thinking tries to give human features to what is essentially just a pathological system. “Rogers” doesn’t really “want” things, I don’t think. It has interests and it takes actions to protect and strengthen them. Hard to have a conversation in the face of that. Even if the people in the boardroom want to do it (which some surely do — Edward Rogers, at the very least), if it means less profit for the media division on their quarterly reports, and therefore revenue targets not met, and stock prices suffering as a result, there’s going to be pretty major resistance, regardless of we think are more intangible merits, because by its very nature a corporation just isn’t going to act like a thinking, feeling human. So I wonder how much they really *can* do.

      • Teddy Ballgame

        Yeah, absolutely…and Rogers duty as a corporate entity is to please their shareholders first. On the other hand, I’m certain that the Blue Jays recent success has helped with how Rogers is viewed, and that goodwill does have balance sheet value. And considering Rogers size and oligopoly position, an extra, say, $25 million to Jays payroll wouldn’t be *that* damaging, especially if it was offset in other ways (attendance and eyeballs on their network, etc).

        Corporations are legal constructs, but it’s important to remember that they are made up and run by living and breathing human beings who can act sentimentally, or decide to take a loss on point a) if it means something positive under point b). If those that ran Rogers thought it was worthwhile to boost Jays payroll for “fan” reasons, it could get done easily. But I think we can agree that as long as the Jays are doing well financially, there’s no obligation for Rogers the entity to act like, say, the Yankees unless that showed a clear shareholder benefit.

        • Flash McLennan

          Great post.

          Might I further add that Rogers Communications income before taxes for the first 9 months of 2017 was $1.7bn CAD. +/- $50mm USD on the Blue Jays payroll would be lost in the noise frankly. Absolutely, they have no incentive to spend money wildly. But the corollary isn’t made nearly enough: nickle and diming the Blue Jays would not only hurt the value of the franchise, but even if it didn’t, the market would literally not notice the impact of the savings on the bottom line. Rogers has no incentive to be unduly cheap, because they wouldn’t be rewarded for it.

          • GrumblePup

            That’s not really how it works though.
            Like, if I had $170 in my pocket, spending a couple bucks on, i don’t know, a comic book, isn’t really going to make a difference in my funds for the day. But if that $170 belonged to my whole family and had to be split up to feed them breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as pay for their transportation to get to school/work while also holding on to some just in case something happens and I have to take a couple extra buss trips that day… well then all of a sudden, it’snot really fair that I spent some of that money on a frivolous item just for me.

            Rogers isn’t just sitting on a pile of coins, Scrooge McDuck style and not using it.

        • Forgive me if I don’t have all that much faith in a company that needs to be legislated into not gouging people on roaming fees, and on down the line, to get mushy about a baseball team to the point of being willing to take a loss just for the fun of it.

          • Flash McLennan

            Not really a question of being mushy. Take those concerned as soulless automatons if you want, driven purely by fear and greet with respect to their personal well being. My point is that everyone assumes in such a culture that nickel and diming the baseball team will be rewarded, with some tenuous link to “stock price”. But the line from “Jays payroll” to “earnings” to “stock price” is not so…ehhh… linear as is often assumed here. Nor is it likely so linear in the minds of execs.

            Is it ideal that a corporation owns the team? Nope, you want John Henry or his equivalent, super rich guy who just wants to win. But you DON’T want an almost rich guy trying to get richer. Think Loria.

            Anyway, look, Rogers isn’t great, but they aren’t out to ruin the Blue Jays. They may we’ll spend more than you think.

  • breasteve

    $23M was expected. I don’t think JD hitting FA market has changed. Will be interesting to see how Machado FA signing will help JD. Would love to see Jays win JD sweepstakes in Jan 2019 so he can mentor next wave of talent.

  • Voidhelix

    Yeah, you’re totally wrong. There’s a reason the Washington Nationals got their 2018 arb’ with Bryce Harper done during LAST season. There’s a level of respect a player deserves when he’s the best player on your team, and one of the premier players in all of baseball. Arguing with him about how much he deserves over a mediator, is just a bad look for the organization. They did the right thing here, regardless of whether he stays, is extended or traded.

    • I’d be lying if I said it’s entirely inconsequential — you probably don’t want to create the conditions for too much griping — but if this most basic part of the economic system of the game is really going to cause a clubhouse problem or a problem for a player, there were probably some roots to that anyway. It’s very close to inconsequential, and I think the fact that it requires chest puffing about “respect” to defend the notion that it’s not pretty much proves that point.

  • Mule or etc...

    It took Jose Bautista three seasons to go from 5.1 to -1.7 bWAR.

    A Donaldson extension could easily be an albatross considering how his defense has sharply declined over the past three years, his 10-5 rights would kick in making him hard to trade, he’s probably going to net 25-30 mil a year.

      • Mule or etc...

        I’m as emotionally attached to baseball players as they are to me. I enjoy the game and secondary to that a winning team.

        I’m willing to wager if you asked Jays fans if they’d rather have Bautista last year or make the playoffs the vast majority would choose the playoffs.

        Trading Donaldson for prospects instead of extending him would mitigate a lot of risk. At least if they bust they aren’t a massive drag on your payroll.

        A Donaldson extension would start in his age 33 season. That’s when Bautista had his last good year and everyone was clamoring to extend him for five more. I have to put my faith in aging curves which have proven time and again that throwing large amounts of money at players on the wrong side of 30 is always a losing proposition in terms of value.

        Now don’t get me wrong, if nostalgia won baseball games I’d be clamoring for a Reed Johnson/Frank Catalanotto platoon in left but sometimes you just have to accept when it’s time to move on.

        • The extension would basically start at 32, because they’re not extending him 5 years in addition to this one. Also, Bautista had a five win year at 34 and a two win year at 35, soo….

          Thing is, aging curves certainly do not say anything about “the wrong side of 30,” as though a player hits that line and that’s it. 30 is still fairly young. The aging curve dips, yes, but this is awfully panicky. Especially using curves so vaguely and poorly. You can’t just evoke the spectre. Get specific about what you think the curve is and why Donaldson won’t be in the group that stays a bit longer on the right side of it.

          • Mule or etc...

            Next year is his age 32 season which the Jays control. An extension would start in his age 33 season. 33 is not young in baseball terms for a position player especially post-steroid era. It’s really, really old. Show me one extension or free agent contract signed by a superstar at that age that was a good deal in terms of dollars spent vs WAR accumulated and I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

            Not sure where you got a 2 WAR season for Bautista. Checking his stats Fangraphs has him at 1.4 and BRef has him at 1.0.

          • Mule or etc...

            66 players played their age 33 season last year. Only five produced more than 2 WAR and only one above 4 WAR.

            The year before, almost the same. Five players above 2 WAR, two above 4.

            It’s just a bad bet.

      • Flash McLennan

        Might be interesting to set a reminder to check back on this thread in January of 2021, regardless of whether he’s getting paid lots of money by the Jays or someone else.

  • CM

    Great posts teddy ballgame. Rogers is easily able to increase payroll and paper over errors more so than any team and on a par with the yanks and dodgers. Highest attendance and tv ratings second to none. Unfortunately they are run by executives who are corporate managers and are not the founders ( like Ted Rogers). Corp managers esp cdn are truly risk averse. It’s exacerbated by Rogers being a cdn oligopoly who has never truly had a competitive landscape to have to do daily battle on. I mean only in Canada would you partner with your biggest competitor on major assets (MLSE) and share broadcast rights. Judgement is just poor to not want to add a non material payroll increase of $25m+ (relative to the corps earnings) and try and field a dominant team.

  • bluerage

    I actually think this is setting up or attempting to set up an extension. Otherwise it makes no sense to give him 23 million (not that he doesn’t deserve it). From everything I’ve read 21-22 million was the MAX the system projected Donaldson’s 2018 salary to be. If the FO have no intention of extending him then why not go to arb and set a case for 21 million? I mean what number could Josh’s side have been asking for that the Jays were afraid he’d get?