TORONTO — Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins has no trouble praising American League MVP Josh Donaldson.
He’s just glad he didn’t have to do it in an arbitration hearing.
Donaldson agreed to a contract worth US$28.65 million on Wednesday that will keep him in Toronto at least another two years. The long-reported deal will see the 30-year-old Donaldson earn $11.65 million in 2016 and $17 million in 2017.
Donaldson and the Blue Jays were headed to arbitration — a sometimes acrimonious hearing process that can sour relations between a player and his team — until the new deal was struck on Tuesday night after the two-time all-star completed a physical. Had arbitration been neccessary, however, Atkins said he had no concerns about a drawn out or bitter fight.
"We would've gone into that hearing talking about how good of a player Josh Donaldson is," said Atkins, who became Toronto's GM on Dec. 3. "That's really the truth. We would not have had anything bad to say about him. The struggle with the negotiation were the comparables. We were getting into record-setting territory so going above and beyond when you're already in record-setting territory is where the challenge came."
Donaldson's acquisition in a trade with Oakland on Nov. 28, 2014, was one of several moves that Alex Anthopoulos, Atkins's predecessor as Toronto GM, made that thrust the Blue Jays into the AL's playoff picture. Toronto sent Canadian third baseman Brett Lawrie, pitching prospects Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin as well as minor league shortstop Franklin Barreto to Oakland as part of the deal for Donaldson.
He lost his salary arbitration case against the Blue Jays in February of 2015 after seeking $5.75 million. Instead, Donaldson was awarded Toronto's offer of $4.3 million for the 2015 season.
There's little doubt that if Donaldson and the Blue Jays had gone to arbitration again that it would've benefited the third baseman after he had the best season of his career.
Donaldson hit .297 with 41 home runs and a league-leading 123 runs batted in in his first year in Toronto. He is just the second Blue Jays player to earn MVP honours after George Bell in 1987. Donaldson was also named player of the year by the Sporting News and awarded the Players Choice Award by his peers.
"The benefits were that we have clarity," said Atkins of completing the deal. "We now feel as though that we agreed upon terms that Josh was excited about and now at least for the next two years we will not have to discuss those terms other than if we were to get into talks about another deal. That gave us a good platform and a great way to start our relationship and those were our goals from the start and we feel good about having accomplished them."
Toronto's pitchers and catchers report to the Blue Jays' facility in Dunedin, Fla., on Feb. 21.
"Getting ready for spring training, the meetings we're going to have on Saturday and getting ready to get to know a lot of players that I don't know," Atkins told a conference call of reporters on what's next for him. "Ultimately framing our decisions that we'll have to make during camp and communicating those to our players is next on the docket.
"What hasn't come off our docket is free agency and trade discussion with other teams and making sure we're doing everything we can to make our team better."
The addition of Donaldson and free agent catcher Russell Martin in February of 2015 as well as mid-season acquisitions in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and ace pitcher David Price transformed the Blue Jays.
Donaldson was instrumental in two 11-game win streaks that helped propel Toronto to its first AL East title and post-season berth since 1993, ending the longest active playoff drought in North American professional sports.
After losing to the Kansas City Royals in six games in the American League Championship Series, Atkins is looking for opportunities to push Toronto on to the World Series.
"At this point we feel good about our team, we always are looking to make it better," said Atkins. "There isn't one specific area that we're looking to improve upon, it's depth in all of them."
Donaldson is currently in Pebble Beach, Calif., where he will tee off Thursday morning with four-time PGA Tour winner Jason Dufner at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.