Atkins on Sanchez: it was his choice to take the league minimum

In advance of Aaron Sanchez’s second start of the Grapefruit League season on Thursday, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins met with reporters in Dunedin to discuss the team’s decision to renew the team’s prized starter on a league minimum contract.

Having completed only his first full season out of a big league rotation in 2016, Sanchez, 23, established career highs in wins (15), strikeouts (161) and innings pitched with 192 on the year, 203 and 2/3 if you’re counting playoffs. When the campaign drew to a close in early October, it was the Blue Jays hard-throwing righty who led the American League in starters earned run average (3.00).

Given his impressive All-Star showing last summer, coupled with the fact that he lost about $27,000 (U.S) when demoted to single-A in an effort to manage his overall innings in 2016, many believed that the former first-rounder would be handed a healthy increase from his previous yearly dollar figure.

After all, precedent indicates that other young MLB standouts such as Kris Bryant, Mookie Bets and Sanchez’s former minor league rotation mate Noah Syndergaard all received a raise prior to their arbitration years.

That wasn’t the case for the Blue Jays hurler when contract figures were released late Wednesday night.

Arbitration-eligible for the first time next winter, Sanchez will haul in more than the $517,800 earned 2016 but that’s only thanks to the fact that Major League Baseball’s base salary was raised by $27,500 this year.

According to the Toronto’s GM, the young pitcher left money on the table.

“That was his choice to take that number,” explained Atkins during a morning scrum with reporters on Thursday. “There was another option that he could have taken. The other option was a higher number that he obviously wasn’t happy with.”

When asked about that higher number, Atkins politically declined to elaborate.

“I can’t share the actual number,” he said. “I suppose I could, I’d rather not out of respect for all of the negotiations and discussions that we have with players and agents.”

Despite the optics of Sanchez’s current satiation, Atkins insists that there is no bad blood between the two sides.

“We focus on resources, we focus on communication, keeping open lines. We focus on respect and we’ll continue to do that.” he said. “ Aaron’s focused on that as well. He’s focused on getting better every day. I think in the end, his performance, his work and his process will end up taking care of the money.”

For over ten years, Toronto has used a formula that includes both service and playing time when calculating their pre-arbitration numbers. According to team management, overall performance has nothing to do with assigning a dollar value in that situation.

At the end of the day, the Blue Jays’ decision to re-up at the minimum comes down to club policy — a policy that dictates the league minimum for any player who refuses a proposed raise ahead of arbitration.

When asked about renewing at the league minimum, Scott Boras -Sanchez’s new agent- called it the “harshest treatment in baseball” during an interview with Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi earlier this week.

Despite his critique of their system, Atkins said that the club has no issue dealing with the super agent.

“Scott’s great to work with. He’s very smart, very driven.” Atkins said. “He’s also thinking all the time about how he can help players get better. He’ll be a resource for (Sanchez).”

Sanchez struck out three while allowed three earned runs on four hits over two and a third frames of work on Thursday. In total, he threw 48 pitches on the afternoon, 28 of which went for strikes.

Speaking with reporters after his appearance on the mound, Sanchez stressed the fact that this is a business and people can easily get things “misconstrued”.

“Obviously, we came upon a disagreement.” he said. “This is still a business. It’s just a spot where we didn’t agree. The contract renewal is something that (Boras and the Blue Jays) can take care of.”

“My Job here is to come to the field and get ready to work hard and to get better. And that’s what I come here to do. All of that other stuff is outside noise and is irrelevant to me.”

- Follow Andrew Hendriks on Twitter (@77hendriks)

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