TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays avoided what would have been a senseless arbitration hearing with Josh Donaldson by reaching agreement on a two-year deal worth nearly $29 million with the reigning American League MVP, a source told Sportsnet on Monday night.
The deal is expected to be valued at $28.65 million, according to the Associated Press.
Settling on a contract before a Feb. 15 hearing date was clearly the ideal outcome for both sides, especially since there was only a $450,000 gap between the club offer of $11.35 million and the player ask of $11.8 million.
Arbitration may not be as nasty as it used to be, but regardless of the outcome, no one would have won had the sides argued this case when the difference was so relatively small.
Still, as a file and trial team, the only way for the Blue Jays to avoid a hearing was by reaching a multi-year deal with Donaldson. While there’s a case to be made for a three-year deal instead of a two, the contract provides the team with some cost-certainty for the 2017 season, and the all-star third baseman remains under club control for the 2018 campaign.
Additionally, resolving a potentially sticky situation amicably is sure to rebuild any of the goodwill between Donaldson and the Blue Jays that may have been lost when the sides couldn’t agree on a deal before last month’s filing deadline.
That’s sure to come in handy down the road when the Blue Jays either do a one-year deal with Donaldson in his final season of arbitration, or perhaps consider a longer-term extension. Given the truncated time-frame at work here, a longer deal wasn’t really possible.
The impression left during last week’s Leadoff event for season-ticket holders was that the Blue Jays were intent on getting something done with Donaldson.
Responding to a fan question about a long-term deal for Donaldson, general manager Ross Atkins said: "We want him here as long as humanly possible."
"There are obviously challenges to that, we have to agree on what that means financially, but we’re going to do everything we can," Atkins continued. "He is a remarkable player and I can say from watching him, there aren’t many guys like that. It is a whole other level of talent, competitiveness, drive, and it’s not just on offence. A lot of guys talk about (Mike) Trout, and a lot of guys talk about best players in the game, you can build an organization around Trout; I’ll take Donaldson."
There is precedent for the type of contract the Blue Jays ended up agreeing to with Donaldson.
For a recent example, last month the Kansas City Royals handed a $17.5-million, two-year deal to outfielder Lorenzo Cain, buying out his remaining arbitration seasons after the sides exchanged filing numbers.
In 2011, Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers agreed on $24-million, two-year deal to avoid arbitration after the outfielder won the American League MVP in 2010.
Also in 2011, Canadian superstar Joey Votto signed a $38-million, three-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds after winning the National League MVP in 2010, locking up his three arbitration years. A year later, the sides worked out a massive extension that added $225 million over 10 years, a kind of step-by-step process that may provide a framework to follow here.
There is a business element to this as well, as having Donaldson’s 2017 salary figured out can help the Blue Jays as they look to re-sign pending free agents Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Team president and CEO Mark Shapiro said last week that talks with both sluggers would pick up during spring training.