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An upcoming deadline to keep in mind

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Peter Gammons has nothing to do with this but the other Shapiro/Atkins images have been overused
Peter Gammons has nothing to do with this but the other Shapiro/Atkins images have been overused
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

At the halfway point of March, the Blue Jays still have 50-some-odd players in camp which has to be whittled down to 25 (plus any on the disabled list) by the eve of Opening Day. Most of these will not be difficult decisions - players signed to minor league deals or 40-man players with options. There will be some tougher decisions involving a handful of players who are out of options and on the bubble, but for the most part, there's no immediate impetus to make a decision.

There is one exception, for players with non guaranteed major league contracts and more specifically those who were arbitration eligible (players without the service time to qualify for arbitration can have their contracts unilaterally renewed by teams to split-level contracts with salaries at or near the major league minimum and much lower salaries when in the minors). Article IX(B) of the Collective Agreement provides that players

shall be entitled to receive termination pay from the Club in an amount equal to thirty (30) days’ payment ... if the termination occurs during spring training but on or before the 16th day prior to the start of the championship season. ... subsequent to the 16th day prior to the start of the championship season, the Player’s termination pay shall be in an amount equal to forty-five (45) days’ payment.

With a 183 day season, the 15 day difference works out to 8.2% of the overall season salary (16.4% compared to 24.6%). It's not a huge difference, but particularly on larger salaries it can be significant and every year there's a few players cut loose in advance of this deadline. Opening Day 2016 is Sunday, April 3, which puts the 16th day before the season begins as this coming Friday, March 18th. And if waivers are required (to avoid paying anything if another team makes a claim), that could move things up another day or two. Can we expect the Jays to do anything?

Nine arbitration eligible players were tendered contracts, with Josh Donaldson signing a two year guaranteed deal. Of the other eight, only Jesse Chavez went to arbitration and is sure to have a non guaranteed contract, but players who sign contracts in lieu of arbitration generally have non guaranteed deals as well and I'll assume that to be the case for this exercise. Josh Thole technically signed as a free agent the day after after being non-tendered, but I assume his deal is non-guaranteed too. That leaves a total of nine potential decisions.

Totally Safe
Service Salary
Brett Cecil 5.152 $3,800,000
Jesse Chavez 5.108 $4,000,000
Drew Hutchison 3.128 $2,200,000
Aaron Loup 3.083 $1,050,000
Michael Saunders 5.135 $2,900,000
Drew Storen 5.140 $8,375,000

There's not a lot to say about these six, as all have at least some surplus beyond their salaries in the unlikely event the Jays wanted to go in a different direction. Saunders might have been the iffiest when Spring Training started, but appears to be fully healthy and productive. On the off chance that Darwin Barney's free agent deal was non guaranteed, he'd be in this category too considering the the injury to Devon Travis.

Very likely safe
Service Salary
Justin Smoak 5.077 $3,900,000
Josh Thole 4.165 $800,000

Neither of these two really have much surplus value in their contracts, but it would be very surprising if either of these two were jettisoned, especially right now. I didn't really understand committing that money to Smoak, but with Edwin Encarnacion dealing with an oblique issue and not guaranteed to be opening day ready, even if the Jays wanted to save some money it would make more sense to wait until before opening day and swallow the extra ~$320,000 it would cost. However, they could also look at Domonic Brown as a left-handed replacement, in addition to other options that could come available, so Smoak's position probably isn't completely secure.

Jose Thole could go in the above group, given the very modest savings (~$65,000) and his likely role catching R.A. Dickey. However, it's not like Russell Martin is incapable of catching Dickey, and A.J. Jimenez showed up in great shape and has been swinging a hot bat. It would be risky to lean on a player with no MLB experience on a team that expects to contend, but if the Jays decided that Jimenez could handle it and didn't want to risk losing him, it's not like Thole has produced much over the last three or four years.

Unlikely, but in more tenuous position
Service Salary
Steve Delabar 3.035 $835,000

There's a log jam of out-of-options relievers, and given his lack of consistency over the last couple years, Delabar is probably less than even-odds to ultimately make the 25-man. Again, given his salary the savings from releasing him this week compared to later are almost immaterial (less than $70,000) and it's possible he'd be claimed on waivers avoiding any expense. That makes it pretty unlikely we'll see anything happen.