Boras hopes to avoid conflict with Blue Jays over Sanchez arbitration

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (Charles Krupa/AP)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Scott Boras played down the possibility of repercussions from the Toronto Blue Jays’ renewal of Aaron Sanchez’s salary at the major-league minimum last season as the sides head toward the right-hander’s first year of arbitration eligibility.

“My focus is not about anything other than making Aaron Sanchez the best pitcher he can be, I think that’s what the Toronto Blue Jays fans and the organization want,” the super-agent, who began representing the 25-year-old last off-season, said during the GM meetings. “Our focus and his focus has to be not on the normal course of business that occurs off the field. It really has to do with his durability, has to do with him getting on the mound and being that No. 1 pitcher that he is again.

“If that happens all things usually work out. So when you have an injury and you have a collectively bargained situation occur, those are usually start ‘em steps, and they occur most often with most major-league players. Our job is how do we get the player to be the best player he can be every day and that’s frankly Aaron’s focus. His focus is not on any of the other subjects other than he wants to be pitching and playing and helping his team. That’s really what the entirety of our conversation is.”

Sanchez won the American League ERA title at 3.00 during a breakthrough 2016 campaign but declined to accept a modest increase on the minimum based on the club’s formula for calculating raises for pre-arbitration players. Once he declined, the Blue Jays renewed his contract at the $535,000 minimum based on a policy that had been in place for 10 years.

Having now surpassed the three-year service time threshold, he’s eligible for arbitration for the first time and the process can sometimes lead to acrimony and friction.

Sanchez’s case will be impacted by the ongoing blister troubles and complications that submarined his season when he had four different stints on the disabled list limiting him to only eight starts.

After the season, GM Ross Atkins said he felt like he “let down” both Sanchez and Devon Travis because they “were frustrated because of some of the inefficiency of our communication.”

Boras said his team worked with the Blue Jays to try and find a solution.

“This blister dynamic is so player individual,” he said. “Doctors have theories, and there are many of them, some work for some players, others work for others. The key thing is in Aaron’s case, our job was to get him in front of as many doctors as we could and see what could work for him. That was a community effort on both of our parts to try to get that accomplished.

“It looks good for next year.”

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Some other news and notes from roaming around the Waldorf Astoria during the GM and owners’ meetings this week:

Pace of play

Major League Baseball and the players’ association have exchanged proposals on rule changes for 2018 aimed at speeding up games and negotiations between the sides are ongoing. But commissioner Rob Manfred made clear Thursday that he’ll implement changes unilaterally if he has to.

“What’s going to happen with respect to 2018 rule changes is fully dependent on which path we’re on,” he said. “I hope I’ve been plain about the fact that my preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can’t get an agreement, we are going to have rule changes in 2018, one way or the other.”

MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said Wednesday that the discussions “have a ways to go,” and that ideally, the sides can find ways to eliminate as much dead time from the game as possible.

With that in mind, they’re open to the possibility of re-thinking mound visits and instituting a pitch timer. To some extent, the sides are limited by the calendar. If they can’t agree on changes by mid-January it’d be a logistical challenge to implement them for 2018.

MLB officials are also actively looking at the baseball “to determine whether to make any changes,” Halem said. While the league determined that regular season and post-season balls were up to standard, home runs reached an all-time high in 2017, prompting questions about the ball.

“We are certainly reviewing the entire testing process and the way baseballs are handled to determine whether changes should be made,” Halem said. “We don’t know if changes should be made, but it [makes sense] as a league to continually look at our processes.”

Deep relief market

Like most teams, the Blue Jays left the GM Meetings without having added to their roster. Instead, they spent the three full days gathering information about future moves.

“When you’re in Toronto sometimes you go home,” Atkins said Wednesday. “When you’re here you don’t.”

Once teams do start making moves, the relief market will be particularly interesting to watch because the free agent relief options extend well beyond Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Bryan Shaw. In fact, the market’s especially deep in bullpen arms, according to club officials and agents alike.

The Blue Jays don’t appear to be planning to set the relief market with an early spending spree, but they’re checking in on a wide range of relievers to be sure they’re prepared. All things being equal, the Blue Jays are believed to have a slight preference for left-handed relief at this stage in the off-season.

Bautista’s next step

Teams have inquired about Jose Bautista‘s willingness to play third base, according to an industry source. One official with a rival team predicted that Bautista would definitely find a job as long as he’s willing to accept far less than the $18 million he made in 2017. Regardless of his next deal, he made a lasting impact in Toronto.

“He’s been great with us,” Atkins said. “He’s been awesome. I can’t say enough about him personally.”

The 37-year-old’s getting married this weekend, so for the time being at least contract talks are secondary.


Health update

The Blue Jays are hopeful of adding someone capable of filling in behind Troy Tulowitzki and Travis up the middle, but in the meantime both infielders are recovering as expected from their respective ankle and knee injuries.

“Devon’s doing great, Tulo’s doing great,” Atkins said.

Roster crunch ahead

The four open spots on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster will likely be filled by Monday, when clubs have to set their rosters ahead of the Rule 5 Draft. Even then, those four spots might not be enough considering the Blue Jays’ eligible prospects.

Max Pentecost, Danny Jansen, Conner Greene, Rowdy Tellez, Thomas Pannone, Jordan Romano, Reese McGuire and Francisco Rios are among the prospects who will be available in the Rule 5 Draft if they aren’t rostered by Monday. The Blue Jays could also create more room by removing players such as Chris Rowley, Harold Ramirez or non-tender candidate Tom Koehler.

Given that the Blue Jays are likely to protect four or five prospects, they may end up exposing the likes of Pentecost, Romano or Rios.

Pentecost, a first-round pick in 2014, is working his way back from multiple shoulder surgeries and was limited to 19 games and 162 innings behind the plate at single-A Dunedin last year. While his bat is advanced, the Blue Jays could gamble that no team will want to devote a major-league roster spot all season to a player whose future behind the plate is uncertain.

Romano, a Markham, Ont., native, could intrigue teams as a reliever after posting a 3.39 ERA with 138 strikeouts in 138 innings at class A Dunedin in 2017.

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