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Arbitration wrap: Blue Jays settle with eight but not Ryan Tepera

Late Thursday into Friday made for an exciting 24 hours, as the Blue Jays first reached agreement with David Phelps and then created a roster spot by moving longtime stalwart Russell Martin to the Dodgers.

That overshadowed what would otherwise have been the main event on the calendar, the deadline for arbitration eligible players and teams to settle on 2019 contracts or file their proposed figures for the arbitration panel. The Jays ended up agreeing with eight, with Ryan Tepera the lone holdout and seemingly destined for a hearing next month. Let’s recap the eight contracts that were agreed to:

  1. Marcus Stroman — $7.4-million ($900K raise; +$200K vs. $7.2-million MLBTR projection)
  2. Ken Giles — $6.3-million ($1.7M raise; -$300K vs. $6.6-million projection)
  3. Kevin Pillar — $5.8-million ($2.55M raise; +$500K vs. $5.3-million projection)
  4. Randal Grichuk — $5-million ($2.2M raise; +$200K vs. $4.8-million projection)
  5. Aaron Sanchez — $3.9-million ($1.2M raise; +$100K vs. $3.8-million projection)
  6. Devon Travis — $1.925-million ($475K raise; -$475K vs. $2.4-million projection)
  7. Brandon Drury — $1.3-million (-$100K vs. $1.4-million projection)
  8. Joe Biagini — $900,000 (-$100K vs. $1-million projection)

In total, the eight above will earn $32.525-million in 2019, compared to the projection of $32.5-million by MLBTR. There were some significant deviations at the individual level, but in sum it was almost bang on with a total deviation of less than 0.1%, which is a reasonable indicator of an unbiased estimation system. The six previously eligible players ended up with a total raise of $9.025-million, or about 42% over the total of $21.3-million in 2018. That actually strikes me as quite high given that none that breakout seasons, and overall were quite disappointed.

Looking at the individual numbers, I wasn’t surprised Devon Travis fell significantly short of the projection, given that he was a second time eligible player by repeated the service class (of 3+ players). That’s unusual so there’s aren’t many direct comparisons, and then his low total of playing time and mediocre production stifles his ability to argue for much of a salary bump.

What did surprise me was the extent to which both outfielders beat their projections, which already seemed quite robust to me. That applies in particular to Pillar, who gets a big raise of 78% despite turning in a very typical campaign lacking in the numbers that arbitration typically rewards, with his counting totals depressed by a career low in games/PA. Grichuk is at least understandable in light of his 25 HR in 2019, which plays and pays well in arbitration. Realistically, Pillar is moving towards non-tender territory next year to the extent he posts his usual offensive production and it earns him another $2.5M+ salary bump.

That leaves the aforementioned Tepera, who filed for $1.8-million with the Jays offering $1.525-million, leaving a midpoint of $1,662,500 that is just shy of the $1.7-million projection. On one hand, the $275K difference is quite insignificant in the landscape of baseball salaries and it’s surprising that they couldn’t bridge it. On the other hand, Tepera filed 18% above the Jays, and that’s typically not a level where you can just split the difference. Not to mention that the 2019 base will impact 2020 and 2021 (and potentially 2022 if Tepera were ever demoted for more than 20 days), so that difference multiplies.

In any event, the Jays now have 14 players under contract for a total outlay of $61.525-million in 2019 (net of cash to be received from San Diego for Clayton Richard). Adding in Tepera and 10-12 players around the minimum, and the total Opening Day payroll for rostered players would be around $70-million.

To that we must add of course $35.85-million the Jays are responsible for in regards to Martin and Troy Tulowitzki. That bring the total cash payroll into the $105- to $106-million range, of which right now almost one-third will be for players on other teams in 2019. If the Jays were to do something similar with Kendrys Morales (to say open up a spot for Rowdy Tellez), that could move upwards of $47-million and just under half of the payroll (45%).

The question now is what more may be to come. The offseason moves thus far have greatly clarified what was a very muddled infield situation at its outset. While the lack of obvious regulars means acquisitions can’t be ruled out should quality players be available opportunistic, there are apparent starters at each position with more waiting in the wings should some of those be traded.

Likewise, the starting rotation isn’t exactly rock solid but has at least been filled out with some veterans so that the likes of Sean Reid-Foley and Thomas Pannone aren’t going to be outright handed rotation spots. Further additions/upgrades certainly aren’t precluded by the current projected mix, but it would feasible to go into 2019 with the group they have.

That leaves the bullpen, which is not quite as stocked with option, but I think broadly looks similar now. Giles, Phelps, Tepera, Biagini and Tim Mayza are five arms that should pretty much be locked in for the Opening Day roster. Danny Barnes isn’t at that level, but is out-of-options and it makes sense for 2019 to be the year he either shows he he’s a solid reliever for the future or not. That leaves a spot or two to be filled. There’s the Elvis Luciano factor, and maybe someone like Sam Gaviglio as a long man (given a lot of starters who aren’t exactly inning eaters). So maybe another addition there, on a similar deal like Phelps or Seung-hwan Oh, or Tyler Clippard or John Axford last year. But almost certainly not anything that really moves payroll.

We knew payroll was going to fall significantly from the levels of the past couple seasons, but I was thinking more the $120- to $125-million range than where things stand now. At least I’d hope that range would be the floor at least in capacity, given the market (and please, spare the Rogers-is-Cheap takes). That would leave some room to be opportunistic not only in adding some talent for 2019, but in building assets for the future.

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