TORONTO – Even if Aaron Sanchez‘s agency change doesn’t seriously impact the Blue Jays in the short term, the decision’s noteworthy because of his rising stature in the game and the franchise’s history with baseball’s best-known agent.
Sanchez’s move to the Boras Corporation, first reported Tuesday by Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae, was viewed by some in the industry as a power move because Scott Boras has a reputation as an aggressive, outspoken agent who typically encourages clients to test free agency.
Sanchez emerged as an elite pitcher in 2016, when he led the American League with a 3.00 ERA and finished seventh in Cy Young balloting. Armed with a hard sinking fastball and a swing-and-miss curve, the 24-year-old right-hander logged 192 regular season innings and 11.2 more in the playoffs. He did so while facing constant workload-related scrutiny—an experience he has in common with longtime Boras clients Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey.
That’s the kind of production that eventually gets pitchers paid, though for one more year Sanchez will earn close to the MLB minimum salary. He’ll then be first-time arbitration eligible after 2017 and remain on track to hit free agency four seasons from now, after the 2020 campaign.
Big-picture decisions are likely years away for all involved, but once Sanchez chose Boras some industry observers speculated that the likelihood of a team-friendly deal between Sanchez and the Blue Jays had diminished, with one rival agent estimating that the chances of such a deal are now “zero.”
Still, it’s premature to assume there’s no possibility of common ground. Numerous Boras clients have signed extensions instead of testing free agency. Strasburg, for example, obtained a $175-million contract months ahead of free agency last year, while Jered Weaver and Carlos Gonzalez signed hometown extensions in years past.
Sanchez, a Barstow, Calif., product, has pitched for the Blue Jays’ organization since they selected him 34th overall in the 2010 draft. They managed his workload cautiously in the minors, with 25 innings, 54.1 innings, 90.1 innings and 109.2 innings in his first four professional seasons. Even when Sanchez made the opening day rotation in 2016, the club announced plans to return him to the bullpen at some point in the summer. They briefly followed through on that plan, acquiring Francisco Liriano on Aug. 1, before opting for a six-man rotation that allowed Sanchez to rest regularly as he completed a breakout season.
In recent years, Boras has had clients in similar situations. He was outspoken in support of the Nationals’ 2012 decision to limit Strasburg’s innings, yet he and the Mets openly disagreed on how to handle Harvey in 2015.
Though Boras represents dozens of prominent MLB players, the BlueJays have rarely signed his clients in recent years. Under former GM Alex Anthopoulos they didn’t sign any prominent Boras players, though they drafted the likes of James Paxton and Kris Bryant without signing them. The Blue Jays ended that drought in April of 2016, signing Franklin Morales to an ill-fated deal that saw the left-hander take home $2 million while pitching just four innings.
All told, the Blue Jays and Boras haven’t had a great history in recent years. At the same time, that’s mostly irrelevant considering that was largely before team president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins arrived in Toronto. They have since dealt with Boras while signing Morales and on lesser deals for Domonic Brown and Michael Bourn.
As one of the game’s top young starters, Sanchez has far more importance to the organization. But realistically if he keeps winning ERA titles he’s going to be expensive no matter who represents him. For now the fact that it’s Boras simply adds to the intrigue.