The A’s have renewed third baseman Josh Donaldson’s contract for this season at the major league minimum of $500,000.
Yes, that figure seems like a raw deal for a guy who was Oakland’s best all-around player last season and finished fourth in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting. But when it’s put into the context of Major League Baseball’s salary structure, it’s not surprising.
Until players have the three years of service time required to be eligible for salary arbitration, they basically have zero leverage when it comes to determining what they’re paid. It’s typical for most major league players who have between zero and three years of time to get renewed at or near the minimum salary.
Consider that Los Angeles Angels star outfielder Mike Trout was paid $510,000 in 2013, and he was coming off a superb season in which he was the A.L. Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up.
Donaldson, who hit .301 with 24 home runs and a team-leading 93 RBI last year, enters this season with just 1.158 years of service time. To his advantage, he’ll likely become arb-eligible after this season as a “Super Two” player (the rare exception to the three-year arbitration rule).
CSN California confirmed the A’s did offer Donaldson a very minimal amount over $500,000, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman was first to report, and that Donaldson rejected it.
Perhaps that rejection was a matter of principal. From the prospective of players and their agents, it probably seems unfair that pre-arbitration salaries remain so low and, for the most part, are not based on merit. At the same time, team owners can’t feel too bad about the situation given the extraordinary salaries they pay to so many players later in their careers.
There is absolutely no sign that Donaldson’s 2014 salary will create serious friction between the player and team, and that’s important.
Bottom line: Next winter will be Donaldson’s first chance to cash in during his first crack at arbitration. Unless, of course, the A’s try to lock him up with a multi-year contract at some point this season, which would seem a realistic possibility.