Thanks to some early-off-season roster cleanup, the Toronto Blue Jays have just two unresolved arbitration cases remaining – a relatively light load compared to years past. But those they do have are more complex than usual, creating plenty of work for the front office ahead of Friday’s 1 p.m. ET deadline for teams and eligible players to submit suggested salary figures for 2020.
The deadline inevitably leads to discussions between the two sides, so you’ll typically see a flurry of players avoid arbitration and finalize salaries. Perhaps Ken Giles and Matt Shoemaker will be among them.
Others will exchange filing numbers, and these submissions are important at a time that most teams, including the Blue Jays, have a file-and-trial approach. The likes of Giles and Shoemaker know that negotiations for one-year deals stop after Friday. Barring a longer-term agreement, they’ll either reach a deal now or go to a hearing next month.
With Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline approaching, here’s a closer look at the Blue Jays’ eligible players, the team’s recent history in arbitration and the numbers that matter most under an archaic system still catching up to the cutting-edge analytics that abound in nearly every other facet of game…
Arbitration-eligible Blue Jays
Ken Giles, RHP
MLB Trade Rumors projected salary: $8.4 million
2019 stats: 1.87 ERA │ 53 innings │ 23 saves │ 83 strikeouts │ 17 walks
Giles projects to be one of the top-earning arbitration-eligible relievers this year, his last season before free agency.
While his case should be relatively straightforward, it could theoretically lead to expanded talks with the 29-year-old Giles. If the Blue Jays are ever going to explore an extension, now would be a logical time to have those discussions. Otherwise, they can simply let the season play out and potentially revisit trade talks in the summer.
If the sides end up focused on a one-year deal, one neutral industry observer suggested $9 million looks like a fair number.
Matt Shoemaker, RHP
Projected salary: $3.8 million
2019 stats: 1.57 ERA │ 28.2 innings │ 5 starts │ 24 strikeouts │ 9 walks
There’s room for nuance in nearly every arbitration case, but the circumstances surrounding Shoemaker are far more open to interpretation than usual. Most obviously, his platform year was shortened by injury early last season. Finding comparables with relatively similar starts and innings totals won’t be easy.
Plus, there’s the question of where Shoemaker re-enters the arbitration system. While the Blue Jays might argue that his 2019 salary of $3.5 million represents a logical starting point, Shoemaker earned $4.125 million when he was last in the arbitration system. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation creating a muddy case that’s potentially frustrating for both sides.
An extension would have simplified things, and the sides did talk contract in September but it’s now time to figure out a one-year deal. Perhaps a modest raise on last year’s $3.5 million salary would appease both sides.
Brandon Drury, Util
Agreed-upon salary: $2.05 million
2019 stats: 120 games │ .218/.262/.380 batting line │ 15 HR │ 21 2B │ -0.2 WAR
After a tough 2019 season, Drury’s no longer guaranteed a spot on the Blue Jays’ roster. He has a minor-league option remaining, giving the Blue Jays flexibility to send him to triple-A if he doesn’t impress this spring. Regardless, he’s set to earn $2.05 million in 2020.
Anthony Bass, RHP
Agreed-upon salary: $1.5 million
2019 stats: 3.56 ERA │ 48 innings │ 5 saves │ 43 strikeouts │ 17 walks
By agreeing to terms with Bass last month, the Blue Jays got one case out of the way early.
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, typically in February. 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, Josh Donaldson lost his hearing while Danny Valencia won his. More recently, Jesse Chavez won his 2016 hearing, Roberto Osuna lost his 2018 hearing and Ryan Tepera lost his 2019 hearing.
Most memorably, Marcus Stroman won his 2017 hearing against the club only to lose his hearing the following year. After losing his 2018 case, Stroman offered a reminder that the arbitration process can become unnecessarily contentious, tweeting “The negative things that were said against me, by my own team, will never leave my mind.”
With that said, good luck determining whether the Blue Jays’ front office has any particular edge in arbitration. In each case, 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.
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 is limited.
To determine those filing numbers, teams and players look closely at players with comparable stats and service time. Playing time is an important driver of arbitration earnings for both pitchers and position players, but performance counts for a lot, too.
It’s not just RBIs 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.