How the Toronto Blue Jays will approach the 2019 arbitration deadline

MLB insider Ben Nicholson-Smith joins Jeff Blair in studio to discuss the list of available free agent starters and relievers, and what the Blue Jays have to add in order to field a competitive team in 2019.

Eventually, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign massive, potentially record-setting contracts and the baseball industry will turn its attention to those long-awaited deals.

As of Friday, though, there’s not much visible momentum on either front, so our collective attention can turn to something more predictable, if decidedly smaller-scale: the upcoming arbitration filing deadline.

What follows is a guide to the deadline and what it means to the Toronto Blue Jays

What is the arbitration filing deadline?

All teams and arbitration-eligible players have until Friday at 1 p.m. ET to submit suggested salary figures for 2019. The deadline inevitably leads to discussions between the two sides, so you’ll typically see a flurry of players avoid arbitration and finalize salaries by 1:30 ET or so.

Others will exchange filing numbers, and these submissions have more significance than ever. Until recently, many clubs would continue negotiating after the exchange of numbers, but Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported in November that the MLBPA anticipates all 30 teams will refuse to negotiate one-year deals after Friday’s deadline this year. In other words, agree now or go to a hearing later.

Why does it matter?

With so many teams using a file-and-trial approach, both sides put plenty of work into finding the right filing number. File too aggressively and you set yourself up for a hearing loss, but if you file too cautiously, your upside’s limited.

To determine those filing numbers, teams and players look closely at players with comparable stats and service time. Playing time’s an important driver of arbitration earnings for both pitchers and position players, but performance counts for a lot, too.

It’s not just RBI and wins anymore, either. Traditional stats like innings and homers still matter in this setting, but advanced stats like FIP, WAR and leverage index have had a greater role in shaping player salaries in recent years.

There’s also a bigger picture in play beyond each individual team-vs.-player conflict. MLB’s Labor Relations Department assists clubs, while the MLBPA works with agents to land players fair deals. Both sides have been known to employ outside consultants to gain an edge.

Which Blue Jays are eligible?

The Blue Jays have nine eligible players, including Marcus Stroman and Kevin Pillar. All told, their class projects to cost $34.2 million, according to the calculations at MLB Trade Rumors.

Marcus Stroman – $7.2 million

Ken Giles – $6.6 million

Kevin Pillar – $5.3 million

Randal Grichuk – $4.8 million

Aaron Sanchez – $3.8 million

Devon Travis – $2.4 million

Ryan Tepera – $1.7 million

Brandon Drury – $1.4 million

Joe Biagini was eligible, but the right-hander has reportedly agreed to a $900,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.

What’s the Blue Jays’ approach?

As a file-and-trial team, the Blue Jays don’t discuss one-year agreements between the filing deadline and the hearing date. In recent years, that’s led to plenty of hearings – a significant shift in approach for a club that avoided arbitration with every last one of its players from 1998-2014.

In 2015, when Alex Anthopoulos was still the Toronto GM, Danny Valencia and Josh Donaldson both had hearings. More recently, Jesse Chavez won his 2016 hearing and Roberto Osuna lost his 2018 hearing.

Then, of course, there’s Marcus Stroman, who won his 2017 hearing against the club only to lose the following year. After losing his 2018 case, Stroman tweeted “The negative things that were said against me, by my own team, will never leave my mind.” Later he clarified those remarks, explaining that he made them out of frustration. “My relationship with the team is still the same. It’s still extremely strong.”

As he heads to arbitration for the third time, Stroman projects to be the biggest earner among the Blue Jays’ eligible players. By Friday, we’ll know whether he’ll finalize his deal with an advance agreement or require a third consecutive hearing.

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