Yesterday night, Josh Donaldson’s time in Toronto came to an end in a way that no one had hoped or imagined it would. Donaldson, the 2015 American League MVP was traded to Cleveland for a player to be named later ahead of the August 31 waiver trade deadline. The Jays will be absorbing $2.7 of the $3,7 million left on Donaldson’s contract.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 1, 2018
Because Donaldson was traded before September 1st, he will be eligible to play in the playoffs. Donaldson has been on the disabled list since May 28 battling calf problems that have been rumored to be worse than initially suggested.
In addition to the injury issues, there have been reports in recent days that Donaldson and the team had disagreements on how to treat and rehabilitate his injured calf – and that he was frustrated with the front office’s approach to extending his contract.
During his four seasons in Toronto, Donaldson put up some of the greatest single season performances in team history. And despite his struggles to remain on the field, the 33-year-old posted a slash line of .270/.385/.559 while battling calf injuries last season.
Donaldson’s stellar performance on the field wasn’t the only reason he will be loved and remembered by Blue Jay fans.
“This isn’t the try league, it’s the get it done league”. “We like our team, Barry.” Calling himself “king of the fucking jungle”. These we’re just some of Donaldson’s many memorable sound bites. He often got under the skin of opposing teams too – famously yelling obscenities at the Angels’ bench in 2015, taunting the Minnesota Twins after hitting a home run in 2016, or calling Yordano Ventura “good hitting”. And of course, ending the 2016 ALDS when he scored from second on a Rougned Odor throwing error, likely the most memorable Blue Jays’ playoff moment that didn’t involve a walk-off home run in the last 25 years.
While a player to be later named later feels like an underwhelming return for someone as talented (albeit injured) as Donaldson, this doesn’t mean that the player will have no value. The player could be on Cleveland’s 40-man roster, or could change depending on Donaldson’s ability to play in major league games this September.
With Donaldson set to hit free agency this winter, the Blue Jays decided that trading their third baseman now was more advantageous than keeping him through the end of the season and losing him for nothing or, extending him a qualifying offer.
I can understand the team’s thinking with moving Donaldson, but am a bit confused as to why they decided this was their best course of action. With his injury issues, Donaldson’s value has never been lower and it’s quite possible that the compensatory pick that they would receive if Donaldson were to reject a qualifying offer is more valuable than the player they receive from Cleveland.
In a situation where Donaldson were to accept a qualifying offer and try to rebuild his value in Toronto next season, the Jays could trade him for a better return at next year’s deadline, or keep him through the season if they find themselves in contention earlier than planned. If he remains injured or ineffective, they are only on the hook for one season.
Would Donaldson’s presence create more of a roster crunch on the 2019 team? Absolutely, but so does Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak’s. Neither were traded at 10 cents on the dollar. And those players have a far lower ceiling than a healthy Donaldson. Despite the Blue Jays’ best prospect playing the same position as Donaldson, the front office’s (maddening) decision to manipulate Vlad Jr.’s service time suggest that he might not be with the major league team at the beginning of next season. And given some of Donaldson’s recent injuries, finding a workable solution that involves either Vlad Jr. or J.D. playing some first base or designated hitter doesn’t feel entirely unreasonable.
Given where the Jays will be next season (likely in some stage trying to re-tool around Guerrero and the next wave of prospects), offering Donaldson a qualifying offer would have seemed like the most effective use of (around) 18 million dollars on next year’s payroll. Donaldson could either add value to the 2019 team or return more value being traded sometime next season. It feels like a longtime ago, but he isn’t even a year removed from a 5.1 WAR season (in 113 games). The Jays are unlikely to be able to sign a player of that calibre (to a one year contract) on the open market this offseason. And if he fails to remain healthy, there is no long-term financial commitment.
The Blue Jays’ front office however did not see it that way. Perhaps more information will come out regarding the relationship between them and Donaldson — information that will shed light on why this went in the direction that it did.
Regardless of the transactional element of the situation, all would agree that yesterday’s trade was a difficult way to part with a Blue Jay great that was so instrumental in the team’s first competitive window in over 20 years. Whatever we think of this move, we should remember just how great Donaldson was during his time in Toronto and just how important he was to Blue Jays’ history.
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