Aaron Sanchez of the Toronto Blue Jays is a very good pitcher. In 2016 he started 30 games, pitched nearly 200 innings, and did it all with a 3.00 ERA. Oh, and that ERA was also the lowest in the American League. And he was an All-Star.
So with all those accomplishments in just his second season in the majors, you’d probably guess that he’s due for a sizable raise, right? Nope, not according to the Blue Jays. The Jays recently renewed Sanchez’s contract at just the major league minimum, $535,000. While that’s a lot of money, compare that to other players who like Sanchez aren’t yet eligible for salary arbitration. The New York Mets, who have had notorious money problems, are paying Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard over $600,000 each. The Boston Red Sox are giving Mookie Betts just under $1 million, and the Chicago Cubs are giving Kris Bryant just more than $1 million, the highest pre-arbitration salary in history. Sanchez’s 2016 performance is in line with what these other players have done.
In an interview with Sportsnet, Sanchez’s agent Scott Boras said that the $535,000 league minimum wasn’t the first offer he got from the Jays. And he was not happy about it.
“They offered him a very small raise above the minimum, which is not commensurate to his performance peers,” Boras said in an interview with Sportsnet. “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.”
Sanchez and Boras didn’t think that the raise the Jays offered was equal to Sanchez’s exemplary performance, and they rejected it. And the Jays then rescinded their raise and decided to renew his contract at the league minimum, aka the smallest amount they’re allowed to pay him.
The Blue Jays had a response, and it came through general manager Ross Atkins during a Sportsnet interview.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins disagreed with Boras’ depiction of the policy as a punitive one “because it’s their choice, they could have accepted that number… This is a policy that was put in place 10 years ago,” he added. “I don’t see it as punitive, we don’t see it as punitive because it’s your choice to not accept the higher number.”
Yeah, that’s true, but the Blue Jays could have chosen to offer Sanchez a number he didn’t feel was unworthy of his performance. Implying that Sanchez is the only entity with a choice here is pretty disingenuous. It’s a team policy that can be changed at will, it’s not law. Other teams have paid their pre-arbitration players better because they deserve it, instead of hiding behind their own policy as an excuse to pay players as little as possible.
This highlights the true goal of baseball teams. More than anything, they’re businesses, and the goal of a business is to make money while spending as little as possible. That’s what they’re doing with Sanchez. Of course, that doesn’t make it right. Baseball is a business that doesn’t deal exclusively in physical things, it deals with humans and their talent.
Even though the league minimum isn’t a small amount of money, it’s important to keep in mind just how much these teams bring in. MLB-wide revenues nearly reached $10 billion last year, according to Forbes. Only we don’t know how much the teams bring in, because longstanding MLB policy allows teams to never, ever release their financial records.
So since we can’t realistically estimate the profits of an MLB team, let’s look at it from a different perspective. The Marlins, one of MLB’s least successful franchises (and one of its youngest), could be purchased soon for $1.4 billion. That’s the value of a franchise that has routinely drawn a small number of fans while consistently handicapping itself with big promises followed by fire sales. If that’s what the Marlins are worth, think about what the Blue Jays are worth. It’s a whole lot more.
These teams are making enormous amounts of money. And they’re not on the players’ side. When a team gives out a $200 million contract, it’s not because they want to. It’s because they have to, in order to get the player they want. If they could pay less, they would. And with players like Sanchez who have no control over where they go, they are paying them less. In fact, even after his stellar season, the Blue Jays are paying Sanchez the lowest amount required by the CBA. And it’s not because they can’t afford it. They’re just doing it because they can.
Baseball teams aren’t special. They’re just like any other business, only because they’re baseball teams, they have an air of class and tradition about them. Many people assume that teams are doing what’s best for the game with their business decisions. And sometimes, that might be true. But no one should ever forget that their No. 1 concern is making money, not bettering the game or fairly compensating their players. They’re just like Walmart or Amazon: they exist to make money. And just like with Walmart or Amazon, maximizing profit means paying your employees as little as possible.
The Blue Jays can afford to give Aaron Sanchez, the 2016 AL ERA leader, a raise that reflects his superior performance. It doesn’t matter what longstanding policy is in place. They’re the ones that established that policy so they can just as easily get rid of it. Players give their lives, their health, their time with their families, all for this job. A job that very few people on the planet can do. A job that combines entertainment with athletic skill, that draws millions of fans who buy concessions and merchandise.
Treating Aaron Sanchez, who immeasurably contributed to the 2016 Blue Jays, like a replaceable commodity worth the absolute bare minimum, isn’t right. And acting punitively when Sanchez rightly wants more money is unnecessarily cruel. Though GM Ross Atkins told Sportsnet that he doesn’t think Sanchez will be upset about this for long.
Atkins downplayed any concerns about long-term implications, saying, “I’m confident that our relationship with Aaron will be fine.”
We’ll see about that. Maybe Sanchez is incredibly forgiving, and he’ll decide that the Blue Jays offering him an inadequate raise and then paying him the minimum is something he can move on from. But it’s equally likely that this is something that Sanchez will remember. The time when the team that drafted him, the team that he did so much for, decided to treat him like he wasn’t worth very much.
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