The specifics of the Josh Donaldson contract extension aren't particularly important.
No amount of money or number of years was going to be too much to give the American League's most valuable player. The economics of baseball are such that every elite player just hopes to extend the previous record for longest string of zeroes strung onto a cashier's cheque.
On that score, the two-years and roughly $29-million (U.S.) is a win for Donaldson and all of those who follow him (the players union's evergreen concern). No man in his situation – entering his second arbitration-eligible season – had secured so high an annual value for a multiyear contract that does not cut into his free agency.
It's tempting to think that Donaldson has sent a Sally Field-esque message to Toronto – "I like you. I really, really like you" – but that's doubtful.
This deal is a financial hedge against catastrophic injury. If Donaldson wanted to commit his long-term future to the Jays in a team-friendly deal, he would have done it now. This morning, the odds of Donaldson being a Toronto Blue Jay four years from now have sunk so low, they ought to be taken off the board.
If he continues to play at his current level and the market continues to spiral upward like a Vancouver housing flip, the number it will take for the Jays to sign him entering free agency after the 2018 season will be something truly ridiculous. Think $35- to $40-million a year.
That free-agent class is setting up as the best in history – Donaldson, National League MVP Bryce Harper, best-in-generation starter Clayton Kershaw, AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and several other huge names. The resultant frenzy will push top-end salaries into new, gobsmacking territory.
Whether the Jays will give Donaldson the combination to the Rogers vault is a question for then. Given the team's history, it's a question that will likely be answered with a filibuster about oil prices and the declining Canadian dollar.
The last time the Jays signed a top-tier free agent to a deal longer than five years was for Vernon Wells a decade ago. That ended in tears. They've also never signed a player to a deal valued at more than $20-million a season.
Donaldson will be 33 when he reports for spring training in three years' time. However much he is loved at the moment, the local naysayers and fiscal conservatives will be arrayed against him by that point. Unlike the fans of New York and Boston, Toronto's supporters have the perverse habit of congratulating their teams for choosing to be cheap.
What does matter about the current Donaldson deal is that it gives us a strong sense of what the Jays see as their window of championship opportunity. It's just been set at the next two seasons.
After that, a wave begins to appear on the distant horizon. By 2019, it may be washing clean the Jays organization.
Think of the core and where it currently stands.
There are the known knowns – shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and catcher Russell Martin are both under long-term control, and both on the wrong side of 30. Tulowitzki has spent years struggling with injury; the catching position is not kind to men in their mid-30s. Both are stars at the moment, but the law of averages suggests they won't be for too much longer.
There are the known unknowns. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion each have one year remaining on their deals. You can have both, but the Jays won't. It's one or the other. Bautista is older, but given his conditioning, he's a better long-term bet. They've agreed to talk during spring training. Bautista is as good a businessman as he is a player. He's also a person who takes slights very seriously. If the Jays don't go over the top to get him before the season starts (meaning they want to see more evidence that, at 35, he's still got it), the negotiation is functionally over. He's not going to let himself get cornered again, after flinching on his current deal. Then the Jays end up falling back on Encarnacion and likely having to overpay him. Or not.
Beyond that are the unknown unknowns. After just one tantalizing, injury-blighted season, is Devon Travis your second-baseman for the next five to seven years? How do you like your outfield if Kevin Pillar is the best player in it? Who will play first base and DH once Bautista and/or Encarnacion are gone? The club spent two years emptying its farm system to facilitate the 2015 playoff run.
We haven't even touched on the pitching staff, which could be anything in a range from "quite good" to "oft-injured, lacking all depth and terrible."
In as little as 20 months, Donaldson could easily go from an organizational cornerstone to a trade chip. That's when letting him go might still bring something back.
So that's the amount of time you have to recreate the magic of last October.
This is still a solid team (though its AL East competitors have made up a lot of ground in the off-season). Like all furors must, the one over the bungled off-season management switch has abated in the face of no new news. Signing Donaldson helps enormously on that score.
If this club wins a few in April, the town will switch seamlessly from a Raptors playoff run to five months of baseball obsession. If the Jays are still playing in October, who knows what new cash infusions and player wooings are possible going forward? Maybe some day, this big-market club with a small-market outlook will decide to stop shopping in the Kids' Section.
But that's a best case. For right now, we're living in the realm of what is most likely. And that's wringing every ounce of value from the all-stars you have for the short time you still do.