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Clock ticking on locking up Donaldson

Blue Jays hope to sign AL MVP to extension before arbitration hearing
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The clock is ticking, but the Blue Jays apparently have not abandoned hope that 2015 American League MVP Award winner Josh Donaldson can be signed to a multiyear contract extension before his arbitration case is heard later this month.

Arbitration dates are expected to remain confidential until a ruling is announced, but Donaldson's case will be heard on Feb. 15, according to a report by FoxSports.com. That leaves little time for Toronto and Donaldson to reach an agreement, but the sides are talking.

TORONTO -- The clock is ticking, but the Blue Jays apparently have not abandoned hope that 2015 American League MVP Award winner Josh Donaldson can be signed to a multiyear contract extension before his arbitration case is heard later this month.

Arbitration dates are expected to remain confidential until a ruling is announced, but Donaldson's case will be heard on Feb. 15, according to a report by FoxSports.com. That leaves little time for Toronto and Donaldson to reach an agreement, but the sides are talking.

Donaldson submitted a figure of $11.8 million for arbitration, while the Blue Jays went with $11.35 million. An independent arbiter will pick one of those numbers after hearing both sides, but everyone involved likely would be better off if the hearing could be avoided.

"My discussions with Josh have been great," general manager Ross Atkins said at the club's annual season-ticket holder event, now called The Leadoff, on Thursday night. "He's an unbelievable talent, he's an unbelievable player, he's a great person and we could not be happier that he's here."

Under a previous regime, Toronto was considered a file-and-trial team. That means once salary figures are exchanged, the club will force an arbitration hearing unless a multiyear contract can be reached. There had been some debate about whether Atkins would follow a similar approach, and he was asked that direct question Thursday night.

Video: Blue Jays, Donaldson working toward multi-year deal

Atkins remained relatively vague, and while he didn't fully commit one way or the other, his response was, "We're just going to work toward a multiyear deal and hope that we get the best result there."

The wording seemed to suggest the Blue Jays will still not consider a one-year deal, but the lack of clarity he provided also adds to the mystery of Toronto's intentions.

The 30-year-old Donaldson remains under club control for three more years, and he won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season. That gives the Blue Jays time, but with a salary that is currently skyrocketing, it might be easier said than done to get Donaldson to commit long-term on a deal that makes sense for both sides.

Donaldson isn't the only pressing priority that faces Atkins and the rest of his front-office staff. At some point, Toronto will have to make a decision on whether to make a serious attempt at signing sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista to contract extensions.

Encarnacion and Bautista are set to hit free agency at the end of the year. Encarnacion's agent is already on record stating that his client will not negotiate after the start of the season, and while there has been ongoing dialogue this winter, president Mark Shapiro said the serious talks will take place later this month.

That doesn't mean a deal will get done, but the Blue Jays will at least try. For his part, Bautista seems almost a lock to hit free agency to maximize value on the open market, while Encarnacion could be an easier sign, but he will still require significant dollars.

"I guess the best thing to say is that it's a no-brainer that we want to keep them here," Shapiro said. "The sentiment is there, we've expressed that to both guys. We're not going to get into the specific negotiations until we get down to Spring Training. On our list of priorities, we have a list of arbitration cases we have to deal with right now and we've had a busy offseason in a lot of ways, but those conversations will be had."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson