How Aaron Sanchez wound up making the MLB minimum

Aaron Sanchez talked about his contract situation with the Blue Jays and what he is focused on right now.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Scott Boras had some very stern words for the Toronto Blue Jays following the team’s recent renewal of Aaron Sanchez’s contract for $535,000, telling Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi it was “the harshest treatment in baseball that any club could provide for a player.” Unsurprisingly, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins feels otherwise.

“We certainly don’t see it that way,” Atkins said Thursday. “We see it as he had options, he had alternatives to take a higher number. He chose not to do that.”

Here’s how this all went down. The Blue Jays use a formula to calculate raises for pre-arbitration players like Sanchez. This year they used it for 22 contracts. According to Atkins, the formula is based on service and playing time. A player’s performance is not factored in. So, forget that Sanchez led the American League in ERA last season, made an all-star team and finished seventh in Cy Young voting. What’s looked at is his 2.069 years of service time and the 317.1 regular season innings he’s pitched since 2014.

Most teams use a formula like this in order to streamline the process and ensure all of their pre-arbitration players are treated equally. Many teams use a formula similar to the Blue Jays, although some do factor performance in, and even have bonuses for accolades such as all-star selections or being named an organizational player of the year.

Using their formula, the Blue Jays calculated an offer for Sanchez, one Atkins confirmed was higher than the league minimum, although he would not specify exactly where it fell. Boras described it to Davidi as: “a very small raise above the minimum, which is not commensurate to his performance peers.”

Whatever the number was, Sanchez and Boras rejected it, which triggered a Blue Jays policy stating that if a player does not accept the pre-arbitration raise offered to them, they are renewed at the major league minimum, which this year is $535,000.

Atkins says the club policy has been in place for 10 years and that although he and the rest of his front office have discussed altering it, they chose not to this season because the major league minimum went up $27,500 from 2016.

“The reason we’ve embraced the scale is to be fair and consistent across all players,” Atkins said. “We will definitely have discussions about how we can look to improve and make it better—make it more indicative of individuals. It’s something that is not easy to do and it takes time.”

Boras, as you might imagine, sees things differently.

“Some teams have very low payment standards but they say if you renew we understand, but you still keep the money we’re giving you,” Boras told Davidi. “Toronto is so rigid, they not only have a very antiquated or substandard policy compared to the other teams for extraordinary performance, but if you don’t accept what that low standard is, they then have the poison pill of saying: you get paid the minimum. It’s the harshest treatment in baseball that any club could provide for a player. That’s why few teams have such a policy.”

So, that’s how Sanchez, coming off one of the best seasons any starter in baseball achieved last year, will earn the same rate in 2017 as a rookie pitcher with zero major league experience. He’ll still receive a raise on the $517,800 he earned in 2016. But considering Sanchez’s on-field performance, renowned commitment to conditioning and nutrition, positive representation of the franchise away from the ballpark, and the fact he accepted a brief minor league demotion last season to help the team out of a roster crunch, it’s easy to see why Boras is upset at the marginal increase.

In recent years, other major league teams have rewarded high-achieving pre-arbitration players with more substantial raises even though they have no requirement to do so. New York Mets starter Noah Syndergaard was bumped up to $605,500 this season after earning $535,375 in his all-star campaign last year. Kris Bryant was rewarded with a $652,000 renewal in 2016 after he was named rookie of the year a season prior, and then $1.05 million this season after winning an MVP award.

Even the late Jose Fernandez of the notoriously tight-fisted Miami Marlins received raises to $635,000 in 2014 and $651,000 in 2015 after being named an all-star and rookie of the year while earning the league minimum in his first MLB season.

Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets is likely the closest comparison to Sanchez. In 2015, with nearly two years of service time, he pitched to a 2.54 ERA over 191 innings, making an all-star team and finishing seventh in Cy Young voting. The Mets renewed deGrom for $607,000 the next season.

In Sanchez’s 2016, which brought him to just over two years of service time, he put up a 3.00 ERA in 192 innings, making an all-star team and finishing seventh in Cy Young voting. Yet, Sanchez was renewed for $72,000 less than deGrom.

The Blue Jays’ line is that Sanchez could have earned more if he had accepted their original offer. Boras’ line is that the Blue Jays need to reassess their policies based on how other teams are behaving across MLB. These disagreements occur all the time in discussions and negotiations between teams and agents. This one has just been spilled into the public.

The concern when something like this happens is that it will affect the relationship and trust between a player and his team. But Atkins says he has no concern about that.

“We support Aaron 100 percent and are confident that our relationship’s strong,” Atkins said. “We focus on resources, we focus on communication, keeping open lines, we focus on respect. We’ll continue to do that. I think Aaron’s focused on that as well. He’s focused on getting better every day. I think in the end, his performance, his work, his process, will end up taking care of the money.”