By: Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
TORONTO - As Major League Baseball’s offseason continues to roll on, so too does its annual register of key events, meetings and overall deadlines.
Friday marked the latest bookmarked occasion as eligible players and their clubs are tasked with submitting their salary arbitration figures ahead of this 2017’s cutoff.
If the two parties fail to come to an overall agreement in advance of the deadline, a hearing is then scheduled shortly after the league receives both offers. These hearings generally take place before the players report to spring training, and involve the two sides meeting with an arbitrator who will listen to both arguments and impartially come up with a salary figure they deem fair for both organization and athlete.
Understandably, these hearings can get ugly as both sides present their case in front of one and other during the process. Broken down, the player lobbies for a higher dollar value while the club counters with their own highly analyzed justification for assigning a lower figure to the player.
This was the case when the Blue Jays took Damaso Garcia to arbitration over the difference of $100,000 in February of 1983.
Despite coming off of what would turn out to be a career-high .338 performance in ’82, Toronto’s brass used Garcia’s on-base percentage against him during the hearing. Hurt by having been subjected to the scrutiny of baseball’s arbitration process, the Blue Jays leadoff man promptly demanded a trade. Ultimately, the fiery middle-infielder wound up winning his case and stuck around Toronto for another four seasons before being traded to Atlanta prior to the 1987 season.
Currently, the Blue Jays employ a total of four players who are eligible for salary arbitration ahead of the 2017 season, all of which received contract offers from the team’s front office last December.
Darwin Barney (avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $2.8875MM contract on Thursday)
Slashing .302/.352/.402 through July 8th, Toronto’s utility infielder experienced a breakout first half with Toronto in 2016 but began to see his overall vitals start to regress as the year advanced. Still, the Gold Glove-winning product of Portland, OR finished the year with a single-season best OBP of .322 while providing steady defense in the field regardless of which position he was asked to man.
With Devon Travis coming off of an injury-riddled campaign, it’s in the Blue Jays best interests to keep Barney around despite the fact that Ryan Goins can essentially play the same utility role.
Ezequiel Carrera (avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1,162,500MM contract on Thursday)
Like Barney, Carrera also put forth an impressive season in 2016. Thrust into everyday action following the first of two significant injuries to Jose Bautista in mid-June, Carrera responded by establishing career highs in doubles (9), home runs (6) and OBP with a .323 marker across 110 appearances on the year.
As of the deadline, Toronto is set to begin the season with an outfield that consists of Melvin Upton in left, Kevin Pillar in center and Carrera in right while 24-year-old Dalton Pompey projects to be the fourth man on the bench. Should another outfielder be brought into the organization between now and Opening Day, it would likely be up to Carrera and the new guy to battle it out for a starting role in 2017.
That said, don’t count out Pompey. After slashing .270/.349/.353 over 93 games with triple-A Buffalo in 2016, he also heads into Dunedin this February with the intentions of throwing his name into the mix for that starting spot in right field.
Aaron Loup (avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1.25MM contract on Friday)
From his MLB debut in July of 2012 up until the end of the 2014 campaign, Loup was one of the most consistent relief options available out of the Blue Jays bullpen. Since that time, general inconsistencies have plagued the former ninth rounder and eventually led to him being placed on optional waivers last August.
Despite a lack of recent success, the sidewinding lefty can still be valuable to the Blue Jays in 2017. With Brett Cecil having signed a lucrative four-year deal with St. Louis earlier this offseason, Loup is now the veteran southpaw in John Gibbons bullpen and, having held the opposition to an overall OBA of .209 across 339 career at-bats, the 5’1l” product of Raceland, La. has been effective against left-handed batters for the better part of his MLB career.
Marcus Stroman (projected to earn $3.5MM per MLB Trade Rumors)
Given his competitive nature, Stroman would be the first person to tell you that 2016 didn’t go exactly as planned for the 24-year-old righty. While his rotation mate Aaron Sanchez took a massive step forward by leading the American League in qualified starters ERA with a figure of 3.00, Stroman was unable to build off of the momentum generated by his unparalleled same-season comeback following an untimely ACL tear sustained during a PFP exercise in Dunedin two springs ago.
Eclipsing the 200 innings pitched plateau for the first time last season, the former first-round pick pitched to an overall ERA of 4.37 while posting an impressive groundball figure of 60.1 % to go along with a WHIP of 1.289 across 32 starts on the year.
Although 2017 represents Stroman’s first year of arbitration eligibility, the Blue Jays hurler remains under team control until 2021 and projects to be a big part of this teams future. Should he post another promising campaign, it wouldn’t be entirely unheard of for Toronto to issue him a long-term deal next winter, one that would cover the remaining arbitration years in advance of free agency during his age 29 season.
Given the Blue Jays overall history with regards to arbitration and the lack of actual hearings that have taken place involving the organization dating back to the 1990’s, it’s likely that Stroman’s deal gets done in advance of the hearing that will be scheduled at some point next month.
With the most recent being Jesse Chavez in 2016, a total of eleven cases have been held in the team’s 40-year history. For what it’s worth, Toronto has won seven of them.
For those who wish to play the Mark Shapiro card when looking for a historical precedent, it’s worth noting that only one player (Vinnie Pestano in 2014) went to an arbitration hearing under his watch with the Cleveland Indians.