Blue Jays need to find creative solution to Donaldson situation

Stephen Brunt joins Brady & Walker to break down the business side of the Blue Jays arbitration case with reigning MVP Josh Donaldson.

TORONTO – As a file-and-trial team, the Toronto Blue Jays’ policy when it comes to salary arbitration is clear: once numbers are exchanged, the only way a one-year deal gets completed is in a hearing room.

The approach has some merit, as it can prevent the sides from wasting time and resources on preparing for a hearing by creating the incentive to try and force an early resolution. The Blue Jays have been very successful with it.

The downside, however, is the messy situation they find themselves in with AL MVP Josh Donaldson, who is seeking $11.8 million and was offered $11.35 million. The $450,000 is a small gap relative to the dollar amounts involved, and isn’t worth the potential damage of a second hearing with the all-star third baseman can cause.

That’s why the Blue Jays need to find a creative way back to the middle ground here, while at the same time not violating their policy.

A multi-year deal – Donaldson still has two seasons of club control after 2016 – is the most straightforward way to avoid a hearing. The Blue Jays did exactly that in the spring of 2011 with Jose Bautista, delaying their hearing moments before it was to begin before hammering out a contract that expires at the end of this season.

That situation was different as Bautista was entering his walk-year at the time, and the sides had to negotiate over free-agent seasons. That can often complicate things and is where things really get expensive, since the player needs incentive to forgo the open market.

The Blue Jays can simplify things with Donaldson by just buying out his three remaining arbitration years (2016, ’17 and ’18), similar to what the Kansas City Royals did Monday in agreeing to a $17.5-million, two-year deal with outfielder Lorenzo Cain.

Another example is the $24-million, two-year deal Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers reached in 2011 to avoid arbitration after the outfielder won the American League MVP in 2010. Like Donaldson, Hamilton was in his second time through the arbitration process.

The numbers will be higher here, but those cases demonstrate how the Blue Jays can still resolve the Donaldson situation in a more positive way, be it through a multi-year deal or some other creative contract structure that would fall in line with their policy.

It won’t be easy, as worth keeping in mind is that the $450,000 gap in filing numbers between the sides isn’t necessarily indicative that they were close to a deal during their talks. Negotiating numbers and filing numbers can be very different.

Also, during the arbitration process, teams face pressure from Major League Baseball to keep the numbers down, while players are urged by the union to drive the dollars up. In arbitration, salaries are often decided based on the cases of other players with similar service time.

That’s a tricky series of issues to navigate, but the Blue Jays certainly can work around them all and find a way to take care of Donaldson, while a wider rethink of their arbitration policies can take place for 2017.

FRONT OFFICE BOLSTERED: The Blue Jays created two new positions within their front office in recent days with the hiring of Mike Murov as director, baseball operations and Gil Kim as director, player development.

Along with the previous addition of Angus Mugford as director of high performance, and the promotion of Joe Sheehan to director, analytics the building out of the front office promised by new president and CEO Mark Shapiro is well underway.

Murov, who had been the assistant director, major league operations for the Boston Red Sox, will be responsible for laying the groundwork the Blue Jays’ leadership group will need for everything ranging from off-season plans to contract negotiations.

Kim, who had been the international scouting director for the Texas Rangers, will oversee the player development department, adding a layer above director, minor-league operations Charlie Wilson and field co-ordinator Doug Davis, both of whom are well respected.

While not as exciting as a player addition, the deepening of the front office should help Blue Jays executives make better decisions by spreading the work around more evenly. When former assistant GM Jay Sartori left for Apple following the 2013 season, he was never replaced, his work divided among others.

As well, assistant GM Tony LaCava used to oversee the player-development side but as he was given more and more responsibilities with the big-league club, his time became increasingly divided.

If all goes to plan, all the returning members of the Blue Jays front office that helped build the team that won the American League East in 2015 should have more resources and support to do their jobs.

HALL-BOUND: A toonie buried by the Blue Jays under the Rogers Centre pitching mound before the start of the 2015 season is headed to St. Marys, Ont.

Stephen Brooks, the club’s senior vice-president, business operations, presented the coin to Scott Crawford, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s director of operations, during Baseball Canada’s annual awards banquet earlier this month.

The toonie brought the Blue Jays similar good fortune to that the original Lucky Loonie buried in the Salt Lake City ice provided to the 2002 Canadian Olympic hockey teams that won gold.

"Before the start of the 2015 season we were doing some maintenance on the mound," says Brooks. "Myself, Kelly Keyes (vice-president, building services) and Tom Farrell (head groundskeeper) as well as the conversions/grounds crew team thought that with an important season upcoming, this was a great opportunity to generate a little luck. The loonie had been done for hockey and we thought a little extra would help, so we decided on the toonie. I don’t remember who pulled the coin out of their pocket but we tossed it under the mound and kept it quiet until the season was over. At the end of the season we had to do some more work on the field which is when the crew dug it out, a little tarnished and covered in clay. With the exchange rate we may bury a fiver for the upcoming season."

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