Let’s not get carried away about the fact the Toronto Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson appear destined for an arbitration hearing.
This isn’t about Donaldson’s salary for 2016. It never was. Rather, arbitration needs to be viewed in the larger context of setting the stage for what is going to be the most difficult negotiation in recent Blue Jays history. Donaldson is a late-bloomer, and at the age of 30 is still three seasons away from free agency while at worst destined to make $11.35 million this season. If he continues to play at this level he is going to crush the Blue Jays in arbitration these next three seasons. And since unlike many Most Valuable Players he’ll have just one big, free-agent payday coming in his career, don’t look for him to cut the team any breaks in, say, years four or five of any multi-year deal.
But know what? The fact the team and the reigning American League MVP aren’t that far apart — Donaldson requested $11.8 million and the Blue Jays countered with $11.35 million — would suggest both sides have a pretty decent starting point for long-term negotiations. There were other filings with much bigger gaps between request and offer: Jake Arrieta, the National League Cy Young Award winner, and the Chicago Cubs were $6.5 million apart; Aroldis Chapman and the New York Yankees $4 million apart.
As for the fear that as a “file-and-trial team” the Blue Jays risk hurting their relationship with Donaldson? I don’t know how much I’d read into it until I know for certain that president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro is going to continue with that policy, which states once figures are exchanged all negotiations on a one-year deal cease. It’s not as draconian as it sounds — indeed, those spendthrifts the Los Angeles Dodgers follow the same philosophy — and let’s face it, with nine players eligible for arbitration this spring, it made sense for the Blue Jays to adhere to the “file-and-trial” philosophy in place under Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston instead of sending mixed messages to the players’ agents during a time of transition.
The Cleveland Indians weren’t a “file-and-trial” team under Shapiro, so perhaps he will recalibrate. But that has little to do with Donaldson — not as much as what happens with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion’s contracts, because the guess here is one of them is earning money that will eventually go to Donaldson.
I know everybody’s default position with the Blue Jays this winter is to expect the worst and, believe me, my first nature is to go along with that sentiment. But Donaldson’s a more complex matter; a circle that needs to be squared. This year’s arbitration is a means to an end.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• One of the central figures in an early off-season squabble between two NFL franchises has a CFL connection. I first met Kirby Wilson, the Minnesota Vikings running back coach who has a pair of Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers, when he played for one of the teams I covered early in my reporting career, the 1983 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
A running back at Illinois, Wilson was signed by Bill Polian, who was the Bombers director of player personnel before going on to become one of the truly legendary NFL team builders. Wilson converted to defensive halfback in the CFL — a position that didn’t exist when he played high school football at Dorsey High in L.A. or Pasadena City College — and had two interceptions in five starts for the Bombers.
Dorsey High has an eclectic collection of alumni: Sparky Anderson, Judge Joe Brown, Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, soul singer Marilyn McCoo, Billy Preston, Robert Kardashian (geezus!), L.A. drug kingpin “Freeway Rick” Ross … and Hue Jackson, the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Jackson won’t have an offensive coordinator, but he wanted Wilson to join him as his “running game coordinator” and the Vikings blocked the move, saying Wilson has another year on his deal. The Browns will likely need to change the name of the new position in order to get it done so it doesn’t appear as if it’s as much of a lateral move.
• The Brooklyn Nets aren’t very good, but Brook Lopez is worth a shout when the Nets and Toronto Raptors meet Monday night at the Air Canada Centre. Since the start of the 2014-2015 season, Lopez has averaged 24.3 points per game and 11.5 rebounds against the Raptors. He has two 30-point games against the Raptors since then, and only Steph Curry (three) has had multiple 30-point games against the Raptors in that time. This will be Lopez’s 20th career game against the Raptors, and he has had at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in four of them. Only Shaquille O’Neal (seven in 30 games) and LeBron James (six in 44) have as many 30/10 games against the Raptors as Lopez, who is tied with Dirk Nowitzki, who has played 28 games against the Raptors.
• Did you know that there is a diminishing correlation between payroll and wins in Major League Baseball? Brian McPherson of the Providence Journal does: in this terrific piece, he details that while it’s understandable fans get upset when their team seems to be bystanders in free agency, it’s really quite silly. It turns out the World Series really isn’t won between November and February. Sorry to screw up one of your favourite off-season narratives, folks.
Sooner or later, the National League will come to its senses and institute the designated-hitter rule. That’s why it’s intriguing that St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak recently told friend Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had detected “more momentum” in that direction in recent meetings among NL general managers and executives.
Interesting timing, considering the DH is a matter for collective bargaining and the next round of talks is just months away. Pitching is too valuable to risk, and as Felipe Alou once said, “They say there’s more strategy in the NL, but what strategy is there in having a pitcher holding a bat at the plate? There’s no play I can put on. I’d rather have a hitter with the bat.”
Amen. Time to end the NL snobbery.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m. to Noon ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan