Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)
Yesterday Shi Davidi reported that the Blue Jays have renewed the 2017 contract of their All-Star caliber starting pitcher, Aaron Sanchez, to the Major League minimum salary of $535,000. This came as a result of Sanchez declining to accept a "modest" increase of the minimum from the Jays based on their own formula for reaching a monetary figure based on pre-arbitration raises. What this formula is - I have no idea but more on this in a bit.
There are two schools of thought one can reach when seeing a salary such as this. You can either A) be of the opinion that Sanchez is still under a rookie deal and this is just part of business. The Jays are well within their right to allocate dollars however they see fit and if Sanchez wanted more money, he should have accepted the Jays initial offer, regardless of how "modest" the increase was. Or, B) Sanchez has more than earned way more than the Major League minimum! To pay the absolute minimum to a player who will more or less be the catalyst to the Jays starting rotation is not only unheard of, it's also insulting. You'll find that I'm a bit in the middle.
Yet, I think you can guess which school of thought Aaron Sanchez's agent, Scott Boras, is operating under. In response to the renewal, Boras described it as "the harshest treatment any team could provide a player." The way Boras sees it, Sanchez proved his worth to not only the Jays, but as a player that more than exceeded expectations; rapidly catapulting himself as one of the most feared and prominent starting pitchers in baseball. To renew his contract for just the minimum salary is a slap in the face for the hard work Sanchez has put in during both the 2016 and '17 off-seasons, as well as the way things were handled during the course of the 2016 season. From his dedication to prove himself as a starting pitcher in the off-season (remember those two-a-days?), to fighting for the fifth starter spot, to being named an MLB All-Star for the first time in his career, to dealing with the talks of an innings limit and the uncertainty regarding the status of his position as a starting pitcher after requiring Francisco Loriano at the trade deadline, to being optioned to the minors as a result of the implemented innings limit, to having the lowest ERA in the American League at the close of the 2016 season, it sure seems bit harsh. Adding all of these things up, you can see why someone would think Sanchez deserves more than just the Major League minimum. We can't ignore this.
We also can't ignore the clout that an agent like Scott Boras has, specifically when it comes to what he considers his clients to be worth. Boras is regarded as the agent in the baseball world, and has been largely successful when it comes to maximizing a contract for his clients, both in years and dollars. Now, before we go further, I know what you're thinking. Stories of Boras vs. the Blue Jays are swirling in your mind because... well, because you just know, right?! You've been told aaallllll about it! Yet, although it has been widely speculated that the Jays and Boras don't generally see eye-to-eye, I regard this as overblown gossip that shouldn't really be on the radar. After all, we aren't.... well, I'm not... in the know when it comes to these types of things (if you are in the know, hire me!). So developing this unsubstantiated notion of Boras vs. Jays without any concrete evidence is both irresponsible and dumb. It's not even on the radar. Put it aside.
However, Boras' present displeasure with Jays is centered around a policy that they have operated under for the past 10 years. This policy suggests that, when it comes to contract renewals, unless the player accepts the Jays' initial offer, they will subsequently renew a player's contract and pay him the Major League minimum. Pretty much, "take it or leave it!" As mentioned, this is precisely what the Jays did for (or rather, to) Sanchez. In response, Boras stated the following in an interview with Sportsnet -
"They offered him a very small raise above the minimum, which is not commensurate to his performance peers. Some teams have very low payment standards but they say if you renew we understand, but you still keep the money we're giving you. Toronto is so rigid, they not only have a very antiquated or substandard policy compared to the other teams for extraordinary performance, but if you don't accept what that low standard is, they then have the poison pill of saying, you get paid the minimum. It's the harshest treatment in baseball that any club could provide for a player. That's why few teams have such a policy."
Goddamn, Scott! Next time just kick them in the balls.
If we unpack this a bit, we can examine why on the one hand, Boras does have a point and, on the other, it's a bit dramatic. But let's start off by giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Boras does make a fair argument by suggesting that Sanchez isn't getting paid an equivalent salary to those who are in his class, for lack of a better term. Sanchez has positioned himself to be the ace of the rotation for the Jays, and to be paid the league minimum seems to be a bit outrageous, at first glance. Davidi cites some examples of times when a pitcher received an increase in pay during a contract renewal in the previously linked article. Specifically, Noah Syndergaard, who this year received a salary bump to $605,500, and Jacob deGrom, who received an increase to $607,000 last year (his final year of arbitration). Sanchez is, at the very least, comparable to these individuals in terms of ability, so given the comparison, he should be paid equivalently. Perhaps, based on these figures, we can come to a reasonable conclusion that this "modest" increase from the league minimum salary wasn't close to these two figures. But don't quote me on that. If anyone knows exactly what this "modest increase" was, please share.
The problem with this premise is the assertion that since players of Sanchez's class are getting paid higher than the league minimum, and higher than what (we think) was offered to him, Sanchez should be offered at least the same amount. This is where things get interesting. While I do agree that Sanchez has earned the opportunity to make more money, or rather, his performance on the hill last year lends credence to him making more money, it doesn't necessitate that he should. Sure, it's harsh and maybe even a bit unfair. But when you're offered more money than the league minimum initially - however "modest" you take it to be - and when you have an agent that is certainly aware of this 10 year-old policy the Jays operate under, it's hard to entirely blame the Blue Jays here. Sanchez was most certainly privy to this information (I would think) and probably should have taken what was initially offered. It sucks, yeah, but this is the team he ended up on. That's the breaks, kid.
Now, don't get me wrong here - I'm not suggesting that such a policy is admirable. I'm not even suggesting that the Jays ought to operate under this policy. I do agree with Boras' subtle suggestion that operating under such an antiquated policy may lead to sour relationships when negotiations will be much more important - i.e. free agency. We've seen this before with the Blue Jays and their tendency to cling on to policies. Recall how adamant Beeston was when it came to the Jays policy of not making contract offers or extensions that surpassed 5 years, and how the optics weren't so great. Sure, Beeston, to his credit, was correct in his analysis, arguing that most contracts that extend 5 years usually come back to bite teams in the ass, leaving them in a bit of a hole financially as they are tied down to a player past his prime. The reasoning was fair. Problem was, when you're trying to compete and lure the best players available in free agency, they tend to want to maximize their terms, and dollars - rightly so, too! Now, since Beeston has been gone, Mark Shapiro has hinted that nothing is concrete, and that there certainly could be a player the Jays would be willing to extend a contract exceeding 5 years to. More specifically, Shapiro stated that he does not operate "in absolutes" and that he'd examine these things on a case-by-case basis.
Watch me pivot.
When considering this contract renewal policy that has been put in place for the past decade, we also must recognize that this wasn't put in place by the new brass - Shapiro and Ross Atkins. In other words, this isn't necessarily their policy and they are more than able to break free from it. This isn't a Rogers policy, it's a Jays policy. They are under no obligation to abide by it. Moreover, if we examine Shapiro's previous claims of not operating in absolutes and inviting fluidity, it's hard to understand why they didn't apply this to Sanchez's case. The whole "5 year" thing, I can make sense of, if they were to cling on to it much like Beeston did (even though they said they wouldn't, necessarily). But if we're to believe that this new Front Office is willing to approach things on a case-by-case basis, if there was ever a case in which they could not be so rigid in their operations, you can argue that it'd be this.
Looking further into Boras' comments, it's hard to not roll your eyes over the whole "harshest treatment in baseball that any club could provide for a player" part. I mean, seriously? Even for Boras, such a claim is a bit dramatic. I can think of numerous ways a team could harshly treat their players that doesn't involve contract negotiations, renewals, dollars, terms, etc. I get that he wants to sort of amplify things, perhaps to use as evidence for when Sanchez hits arbitration. I don't know. Perhaps what he means is relative to a team offering a player like Sanchez such a low-ball offer when describing it as "harsh," which I can see. But for someone that is such a strong advocate of players' rights, I'm sure there is much more that could be put on the table that would be universally harsh. That said, renewing Sanchez's contract for the league minimum isn't nearly as egregious as he's making it out to be. C'mon, let's be real here.
Yet, I think the main concern when it comes to fans of the Jays is whether or not this is the start of a salty relationship between Sanchez/Boras and the club. Homegrown talent, such as Sanchez, doesn't come very often and I assume the Jays would love to have him long-term (who wouldn't?). Boras is newly hired by Sanchez, so this is their first experience with the Jays as a pair. If we are to believe that Boras feels this strongly over the renewal, the fear is that he will begin to plant seeds of negativity in Sanchez's head, building on how the Jays treated him unfairly and didn't appreciate him when they could have. Thus, leading him to sign elsewhere during free agency. Fortunately, this is not for quite some time (2021) and it shouldn't really be worried about. Simply put - don't overreact. I think many fans think the worst of all possibilities if a Boras client is unhappy, but there's so much time for the Jays to "come correct" to Sanchez that it could conceivably and easily be mitigated.
I mean, it's not like Sanchez is going to mail it in as a result of this. It's more than likely going to be viewed as a blip on the radar and I'm sure, at the end of the day, it's understood that it's just business. That's not to say that this should be a sort of wake-up call for the Jays to revisit and reconsider a policy that does seem a bit outdated, because they should. But it also doesn't mean that the comments made by Boras should really be anything to worry about, in terms of Sanchez's future with the Jays.
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