TORONTO -- The Blue Jays were not going to downplay the accomplishments of Josh Donaldson, but now that the arbitration process has been avoided, the risk of upsetting their star player is no longer a concern.
Toronto officially signed the reigning American League MVP Award winner to a two-year contract worth $28.65 million on Wednesday. Donaldson is set to make $11.65 million in 2016 and $17 million in '17, then he will have one final year of arbitration in '18.
The deal wasn't an absolute must, because Donaldson has three years of control remaining before free agency. But any proceedings would have involved each side making a case in front of an independent arbiter. That's where things can get tricky, even if the Blue Jays were planning to keep their side positive.
"We would have gone into that hearing talking about how good of a player Josh Donaldson is," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. "That really is the truth. We would not have had anything bad to say about him. The struggle with the negotiations were the [comparable cases].
"We were getting into record-setting territory, so going above and beyond, when you're already into record-setting territory is where the challenge came. ... We really would have approached that hearing with nothing but great things to say about what an incredible player and person he has been to this organization."
Donaldson was set to go through an arbitration hearing later this month. He submitted a figure of $11.8 million for the 2016 season; the Blue Jays countered with $11.35 million. The small discrepancy between the figures provided some common ground to start negotiations, and a deal come together quickly after that.
Toronto knew Donaldson would be back, but this is one less issue on the organization's plate. More importantly, when the likes of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and R.A. Dickey hit free agency after this season, the club can focus on those players.
The ability to have cost certainty and a happy player far outweigh the cons that would come with a potential injury. Donaldson has become one of the elite players in the game after finishing in the top 10 in voting for the AL MVP Award during each of the past three seasons. The career year came in 2015, when he beat out Angels centre fielder Mike Trout for the honor after hitting .297/.371/.568 with 41 home runs and a league-best 123 RBIs.
"The benefits were that we have clarity and that now feel as though we agreed upon terms that Josh was excited about. And now, at least for the next two years, we will not have to discuss those terms, unless we were to get in talks about another deal," Atkins said. "That gave us a good platform and a great way to start our relationship. Those were our goals from the start, and we feel good about having accomplished them."
Atkins declined to get into specifics, but he did say during a conference call with reporters that multiple concepts for a contract were discussed. There was a small chance that the organization would be able to work out something long-term, but after discussing various parameters, both sides felt it was best to focus on a two-year deal for now.
"I guess what I would say to you, we talked about many, many scenarios -- much well beyond two years -- and talked about several different scenarios and ultimately decided, mutually, that it would be best to focus on two years," Atkins said. "That was a mutually agreed upon decision."