Blue Jays’ approach with pre-arbitration players helps settle contracts

Stephen Brunt joins Sid and Donnovan to discuss the optimism surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays in spring training noting that the big names are looking like the big names.

TORONTO — The process of assigning salaries to players with 0-3 years of major-league service can be a murky piece of business, with teams each employing their own methodologies to arrive at a final figure.

Some clubs base their salary scales on a player’s service time, others use performance and a few don’t share how their system functions with players or their representatives at all, arguing that the process is proprietary. Each avenue makes grievances easy to accumulate.

Given that, it’s interesting to hear a couple of agents praise the Toronto Blue Jays for their transparency in settling 2020 contracts with pre-arbitration players, all 28 of which were finalized through agreements ahead of Wednesday’s deadline, according to two industry sources.

Rather than dealing individually with the eligible players – including young stars Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – the team sent out a detailed explanation of how it calculated each salary, along with the offers to everyone on the roster.

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One agent said the information helps in giving players clear explanations on why they are being paid what they are relative to their teammates. Another said attaching all the salaries in one spreadsheet meant he didn’t have to worry that his player was being played off others to drive down salaries, or that a someone similar to his client might end up earning more.

For the Blue Jays, the transparency allows them to demonstrate that their salary scale is standardized and that all players are treated equally under defined criteria. In doing so, they can show players that they share the same pathway to increasing their salaries.

Still, in examining the 2020 salaries for the 28 players, the agreements are a reminder that both the wider system, which suppresses salaries for pre-arbitration players, and the club’s own scale are flawed.

Consider that Derek Fisher, he of the minus-0.4 WAR as tabulated by Fangraphs, will earn $579,600 in the majors this year, more than the $579,300 for Guerrero (0.4 WAR), the $576,600 for Biggio (2.4 WAR) and the $570,000 for Bichette (1.7 WAR).

Sam Gaviglio is the club’s top earner among the group at $602,900, followed by Teoscar Hernandez’s $602,200. Right-hander Trent Thornton, the only starter to pitch in the rotation wire-to-wire last year, received the biggest bump from rookie to sophomore at $581,900.

Danny Jansen, a Gold Glove finalist among catchers in his first full season in the big-leagues, checks in at $580,900.

Player Salary
Sam Gaviglio $602,900
Teoscar Hernandez $602,200
Wilmer Font $592,000
Trent Thornton $581,900
Thomas Pannone $581,400
Danny Jansen $580,900
Derek Fisher $579,600
Rowdy Tellez $579,600
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. $579,300
Billy McKinney $578,100
Cavan Biggio $576,600
Ryan Borucki $573,800
Sean Reid-Foley $572,700
Elvis Luciano $570,800
Bo Bichette $570,000
Reese McGuire $569,400
Jonathan Davis $569,000
Jordan Romano $567,800
Anthony Alford $566,800
Anthony Kay $565,600
Yennsy Diaz $564,000
Santiago Espinal $563,500
Tom Hatch $563,500
Julian Merryweather $563,500
Patrick Murphy $563,500
Hector Perez $563,500
Jacob Waguespack $573,000
T.J. Zeuch $566,600

So, how exactly do the Blue Jays set up their salary scale?

Well, the process starts with the major-league minimum salary, which in 2020 is $563,500. Anyone on the 40-man roster who has yet to spend a day in the big-leagues will earn that if he’s in the majors.

From there, Blue Jays players can earn up to $40,000 more during their subsequent pre-arbitration seasons, based on a formula that rewards career active service time by up to $15,000 and career playing time by up to $25,000.

Each day of active service time in the big-leagues – time on the injured list doesn’t count – up to 430 days is worth $34.88 in extra salary. Using Guerrero as an example, he accumulated 157 service days in 2019, which earned him an additional rounded-up total of $5,500.

For position players, the playing time rewards are based on plate appearances, which are worth $20 a piece for up to 1,250 career trips to the batter’s box. Guerrero’s 514 plate appearances last year earned him a rounded-up total of $10,300.

Add the $5,500 and $10,300 to the major-league minimum of $563,500, and you get his 2020 salary of $579,300.

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On the pitching side, the Blue Jays changed their career playing time criteria in response to how usage is evolving, creating a points system aimed at better recognizing the contributions.

Now, a pitcher receives three points for an appearance of three innings or more, two points for an outing of 2.0, 2.1 or 2.2 innings, and one point for 1.2 innings of work or less.

A full season of pitching is the equivalent of 72 points and pitchers can accumulate up to a maximum of 180 points to earn the full $25,000, making each point worth $138.89.

In that way, Thornton’s 2020 salary is based on the major-league minimum plus $5,600 for 161 days of active service and $12,800 for 92 points, collected through 29 appearances of more than three innings, two appearances between 2-3 innings, and one 1.1 inning outing.

All players receive a $10,000 bonus if they win a major award (Rookie of the Year, all-star selection, Rivera/Hoffman Reliever of the Year, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove) or finish in the top three in MVP or Cy Young Award balloting. There’s also a $10,000 bump the following year.

Players have little recourse if they object to their salaries.

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Under the collective bargaining agreement, if someone doesn’t accept his scale-determined salary, his contract is renewed at the midpoint between the major-league minimum and the awarded salary.

Essentially, a player can protest to make a point, but can’t materially change the outcome, one of many reasons why the overall system is far from ideal.

The Blue Jays’ scale attempts to alleviate some of that, but doesn’t address bigger-picture issues such as the way players aren’t fairly compensated relative to their production early in their careers. That’s a growing problem with free agents no longer guaranteed the type of payday that tended to balance things out in the past.

And similarly, production relative to WAR isn’t factored into their salaries, although, in a sense, production is worked in since only performing players are going to accumulate enough playing time to max out their rewards.

Still, the Blue Jays’ system is better than where it was at the beginning of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2017, when their payouts to pre-arbitration players ranked toward the bottom third in the majors.

They’re now either toward, or in, the upper third, which offers the potential of a better relationship with players leading into the arbitration years, and for potential contract negotiations, too.

In a strange system that’s applied in divergent ways across the majors, a little transparency in the muck is a good thing.


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