Blue Jays arbitration primer: Donaldson could land record-setting deal

MLB insider Ben Nicholson-Smith joins the Jeff Blair Show to discuss whether the Blue Jays would offer any current free agents 5-year contracts?

Josh Donaldson leads a large and expensive class of arbitration-eligible Toronto Blue Jays that could cost the club upwards of $45 million in 2018 salaries. As Donaldson enters his fourth and final season of arbitration eligibility he can expect a salary north of $20 million that will make him the Blue Jays’ highest-paid player.

Teams and players have until Friday to exchange figures, which makes this week a busy one during an otherwise quiet off-season.

Conversations with industry sources provide a closer look at the Blue Jays’ arbitration-eligible players…

Josh Donaldson

2017 salary: $17 million
Under team control through: 2018
MLB Trade Rumors 2018 salary projection: $20.7 million
After yet another productive season, Donaldson’s poised to break Bryce Harper’s record arbitration salary of $21.625 million. MLBTR projects a $20.7 million salary, but that looks low according to those who know the arbitration process well.

Harper’s deal represented an $8-million raise, and while nobody’s predicting that kind of increase for Donaldson after a season in which he was limited to 113 games, a $6-million jump “does not seem outrageous at all” in one observer’s view. Others agreed that Donaldson should end up above Harper on his way to a new record.

When the sides exchanged numbers two winters ago they were only $450,000 apart before eventually agreeing on a deal covering the 2016-17 seasons. This time around Donaldson’s just a year away from free agency, so this could be a logical time for the club to gauge his asking price on a long-term extension.

Marcus Stroman

2017 salary: $3.4 million
Under team control through: 2020
MLB Trade Rumors 2018 salary projection: $7.2 million
Stroman combined quality and quantity in 2017 when he posted a 3.09 ERA in 201 innings. That performance will earn him a substantial raise, with Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Kevin Gausman and Trevor Bauer among the many second-time eligible starting pitchers who appear to be relevant reference points.

Roberto Osuna

2017 salary: $552,000
Under team control through: 2020
MLB Trade Rumors 2018 salary projection: $5.6 million
Osuna’s gaudy saves totals will lead to a massive raise in 2018. Among current first-time eligible relievers, Rays closer Alex Colome will be the best comparable for Osuna, and if we look back two years an equally compelling comp emerges: Trevor Rosenthal, who earned a $5.6 million salary following the 2015 season.

At the time, Rosenthal had a 2.66 ERA with 96 career saves in 237 career innings. He was coming off an all-star season, and had a stellar post-season record: a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings.

Two years later, Osuna has a 2.86 ERA with 95 career saves in 207.2 career innings. He’s coming off an all-star season, and has a stellar post-season record: a 1.04 ERA in 17.1 innings.

The Blue Jays could point out that, despite his all-star nod, Osuna led MLB with 10 blown saves last year, but his case for Rosenthal-type money remains strong.

Kevin Pillar

2017 salary: $555,000
Under team control through: 2020
MLB Trade Rumors 2018 salary projection: $4.0 million
Pillar will earn a substantial raise, but the MLBTR estimate looks high according to people I asked. After all, Marcell Ozuna and Charlie Blackmon earned just $3.5 million as first-time eligible players, and they were coming off of stronger offensive seasons. Pillar’s defence has distinguished him at the MLB level, but the arbitration process doesn’t value defence nearly as much as it values power. As such, the Blue Jays can be expected to keep Pillar’s salary below $4 million.

Aaron Sanchez

2017 salary: $535,000
Under team control through: 2020
MLB Trade Rumors 2018 salary projection: $1.9 million
The best comp for Sanchez in arbitration? None other than Noah Syndergaard, his former minor-league teammate. “It’s uncanny how similar they are,” one person said.

Like Sanchez, Syndergaard put together an all-star 2016 season before battling injuries for most of 2017. Sanchez made just eight starts last year, while Syndergaard made seven. Not only are their platform seasons similar, their career totals are comparable, too:

Syndergaard: 24-18, 2.89 ERA, 364 innings
Sanchez: 25-13, 3.01 ERA, 353.1 innings

Syndergaard finished the 2017 season healthy, which could give him a slight edge over Sanchez, but the former Blue Jays prospects, who were selected four picks apart in the 2010 draft, will again be closely linked. Those surveyed agreed that the $1.9-million projection looks a little low for Sanchez, and that he could end up in the $2 to 2.5-million range.

Agent Scott Boras represents Sanchez, who had his salary renewed by the Blue Jays this time last year. Given that Sanchez had just led the American League in ERA, the renewal could have been contentious, but both sides have said they expect negotiations to unfold amicably this year.

Ezequiel Carrera

2017 salary: $1.1625 million
Under team control through: 2019
MLB Trade Rumors 2018 salary projection: $1.9 million
Carrera quietly hit .282 in 131 games last year, setting up a raise for 2018.

Aaron Loup

2017 salary: $1.125 million
Under team control through: 2018
MLB Trade Rumors 2018 salary projection: $1.8 million
Loup remains affordable even in his final trip through arbitration.

Devon Travis

2017 salary: $545,000
Under team control through: 2020
MLB Trade Rumors 2018 salary projection: $1.7 million
Though Travis has battled injuries, he has been productive enough when healthy to earn a considerable raise.

Dominic Leone

2017 salary: 548,000
Under team control through: 2021
MLB Trade Rumors 2018 salary projection: $1.2 million
Leone has the absolute minimum service time required for arbitration eligibility, but it should be enough to double his 2017 salary.