Josh Donaldson is the highest paid member of the Blue Jays! Finally!
#BlueJays and Josh Donaldson avoid arbitration, settle at $23 million, per source.
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) January 12, 2018
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.