Contracts for Tepera and Diaz should be interesting for Jays

Newly acquired infielder Aledmys Diaz is one of the Toronto Blue Jays' most prominent pre-arbitration eligible players.

Newly acquired infielder Aledmys Diaz is one of the Toronto Blue Jays' most prominent pre-arbitration eligible players.

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

Now that the Blue Jays' salary-arbitration cases have been settled, let's think about those players, who are under club control.

They are called pre-arbitration eligibles. Usually by March 1 or shortly thereafter, major league clubs tend to cut off negotiations a long time before the regular season starts. In many cases, there are no negotiations. Club representatives tend to just tell agents that there is a figure in the sand and that is it.

Take Dennis Ryan Tepera, who goes by his middle name but who is listed by his two first names with MLBPA executive assistant Rebecca Rivera when I called her for some information. 

"You mean, Dennis Ryan Tepera?'' Rivera asked.

Tepera and recently acquired infielder Aledmys Diaz stand to earn the highest salaries in 2018 among Blue Jays who are not eligible for arbitration. Tepera boasts a little more than two years of service time under his belt. He's the reliever stud, who was 7-1 with an ERA of 3.59 ERA in just under 78 innings pitched in 2017. On April 21, he threw three shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels to earn his first career win. 

Tepera was given a 2017 salary of $542,700 and could be Toronto's first non-arbitration player in team history to reach $600,000 in salary. And that's the ballpark figure Diaz might get.

"I don't comment on contract negotiations whether it's a free agent or not. It's a rule of thumb,'' Tepera's celebrated agent Scott Leventhal said when reached on his cell phone. "I appreciate you reaching out.''

Diaz has finished a four-year contract he signed as a coveted free agent in 2014 with his last team, the Cardinals. He earned $2 million last season but it doesn't mean he will earn more than $2 million in 2018 because he's essentially a player with one year and 100 days of service time in the majors, much less than what Tepera has under his belt.

Diaz, in a solid 2016, hit .300 with 17 homers and 65 RBI with the Cardinals but slipped last season to .259 with seven homers and 20 RBI. Will Diaz be given a salary similar to Tepera because he's now deemed a non-arbitration player and not an international free agent? Probably. It's very likely he will take a huge pay cut from last season.

What do the Jays do with the salary for reliever/starter Joe Biagini? He slumped to 3-13 last season after a strong 2016 campaign when he worked strictly out of the bullpen and fashioned a neat 3.06 ERA in almost 68 innings of work. He earned $543,000 in 2017 but also spent time in triple-A Buffalo.

Back in the late 1990s, Blue Jays players Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Alex Gonzalez, Ed Sprague and Pat Hentgen were all given very generous contracts of $500,000, among the highest in baseball at the time, if not the highest. They all had roughly two years of service as non-arbitration eligibles.

As a general rule of thumb, most teams like the Expos back then gave players with two years' service time no more than about $315,000. In 1993, Moises Alou and his agent Bob LaMonte were upset when that figure of $315,000 came up. This year's minimum salary has jumped to $545,000. Last year, it was $535,000 and in 2016, it was $507,500. In 2019, it goes to $555,000.

Another interesting financial scenario involving the Blue Jays is first baseman Justin Smoak, whose contract option for 2019 is tied to what he does in 2018 and what he did in 2017. Smoak and the Jays worked out a deal, whereby his 2019 option would depend on the combined number of appearances he makes in 2017-18.

If Smoak collects a total of 950 plate appearances in 2017-28, his 2019 option would be $7-million and if his PA reach 1,100, the deal would be worth $8-million. If he doesn't reach any of those goals, the salary would be $6-million, if indeed the Blue Jays exercise the option.

Based on his 637 plate appearances in 2017, Smoak is on his way to achieving both goals, if he remains a regular. His team-friendly salary for 2018 is $4.125 million, the same as 2017.