Realistically speaking, there are three options available to the Toronto Blue Jays when it comes to Josh Donaldson
It goes without saying that 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson has been an amazing player not only since he became a Big League regular, but especially since he joined the Toronto Blue Jays.
In his first three seasons with the Blue Jays, Donaldson accumulated a 21.2 WAR, 153 wRC+, 111 home runs, and a combined 16 defensive runs saved at third base. He has been about as elite as a player not named Mike Trout can be .
However, 2018 has been extremely disappointing for the third baseman. Not only has he battled injuries, first with his shoulder and now with his calf, but his bat and glove were not up to par when he was on the field either, likely due to playing through injury.
He also battled injuries in 2016 and 2017, but this season appears to be the most time he might spend on the disabled list. Given his age (32), his body slowly breaking down leading to diminished performance and more difficulty staying on the field is the type of risk that usually comes with players in that age bracket.
A lot can be said about the organization’s decision to play the middle ground in terms of team direction rather than scaling back. Certainly an argument could have been made for the team to take a step back either during or after 2017 when it was clear the team’s competitive window was just about closed shut, but corporate owners usually do not make sports decisions. They make financial decisions.
One of the drawbacks to that philosophy is likely going to end up being the value lost in holding on to Donaldson one year too long. He will enter free agency at age 33, after possibly missing a large chunk of the season.
So what are the options the Blue Jays have with him from now until the end of the season? Realistically, there are only three.
1. Keep him and make him a qualifying offer at the end of the season
This might be the most realistic option if Donaldson does not come back in time for the trade deadline. Giving him the qualifying offer means the team will get draft pick compensation if he leaves.
When it comes to qualified free agents under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), “if the team that loses the player does not receive revenue sharing and did not exceed the luxury-tax salary threshold the previous season, its compensatory pick will come after Competitive Balance Round B. The value of the player’s contract doesn’t matter in this case.”
Which means the Blue Jays, if they qualify Donaldson and he rejects it to sign elsewhere, will likely receive a draft pick somewhere in the 70-80 range. That will have some value. If nothing else it will increase the team’s draft budget which will help in potentially signing more expensive talent in that draft class, but it is far from certain that the player they choose in that spot becomes an actual prospect.
On the flip side, the Blue Jays under the Mark Shapiro regime have been able to get very good value after the first few rounds so it is not the worst case scenario. The team lost Edwin Encarnacion a year ago and it lead to choosing top prospect Nate Pearson with the extra draft pick.
Granted, that was under the old CBA, so not an apples to apples comparison since there is a big difference between the 28th pick (where Pearson was selected) and wherever the compensation pick for Donaldson would land after the Competitive Balance Round, but an extra pick at least has a chance to turn into an asset.
There is also a chance that Donaldson decides to accept the qualifying offer, but that would mean taking a pay cut on a one year deal (the qualifying offer figures to be less than the $23 million USD he earns in 2018), which would make such a move for him incredibly unlikely.
2. Keep him and try to re-sign him at the end of the season
This might be the least desirable option, although a lot will depend on what it costs to keep him. If Donaldson accepts a one or two year deal, then the risk would be minimal in bringing him back (downside being the inability to ever qualify him again). However, given the fact that he will be 33 at the start of 2019, he might try to maximize the amount of years he gets, and that does not favor a Blue Jays team that desperately needs to get younger talent on the Big League roster.
If he is willing to accept a one year deal, presumably after turning down the qualifying offer (much like Jose Bautista did prior to the 2017 season), then he may prefer to get that one year deal from a team that does not play on turf, especially given his lower body injuries.
Regardless, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is close to being ready to play third base full-time. Or if they decide to move him to another position, the team has more than enough infield prospects to shift players around the diamond, so bringing Donaldson back post-2018 for what should be the twilight of his career does not seem like the best long-term move.
3. Trade him either at the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline or the August 31st waiver trade deadline
This option is clearly the best one. Even with diminished value, getting some prospect depth and maybe a high upside lottery ticket prospect that is far away from the Majors would be preferable over any other alternative presented above.
The problem with this option is whether Donaldson will get healthy in time for either of the two trade deadlines (July or August). It seems like August might be more realistic, giving him more time to prove he is healthy, but that also decreases the amount of games he could play for any team that would acquire him, meaning the return will be even less.
One alternative that the Blue Jays might consider if Donaldson comes back in time for the July deadline is combining him with another asset. For example, a team like Atlanta might covet an improvement in the rotation and the infield, so while Donaldson might be a bit of a gamble given his health, if the Braves would also be getting J.A. Happ in that hypothetical trade, then it gives them a much higher potential ceiling for the rest of the season and might increase the value coming back to Toronto.
It would have been nice to close the chapter on Donaldson’s tenure with the Blue Jays in a much more successful way. Obviously making the playoffs in 2018 would have been the ideal way, but now it has gotten to the point where the team needs to figure out the best path to maximize his value before he departs. That will be tough the longer he stays on the disabled list, so getting him on the field and performing like he typically does becomes that much more important over the next two and a half weeks.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
HEAD ON OVER TO THE JAYS FROM THE COUCH VS ALS STORE AND GET SOME GREAT SWAG THAT YOU WILL LOOK GREAT IN AND YOU CAN FEEL GREAT ABOUT.
YOU CAN ALSO HEAD TO OUR JAYS FROM THE COUCH VS ALS FUNDRAISING PAGE TO MAKE A TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION DIRECTLY TO ALS CANADA.
THANK YOU FOR VISITING JAYS FROM THE COUCH! CHECK US OUT ON TWITTER @JAYSFROMCOUCH AND INSTAGRAM. LIKE US FACEBOOK. BE SURE TO CATCH THE LATEST FROM JAYS FROM THE COUCH RADIO AND SUBSCRIBE TO OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL!
Srikant Kabse is a long time baseball fan, accountant, and writer. He currently resides in New Jersey, but grew up in Scarborough Ontario where his love for the sport and for the Blue Jays began as a child. Aside from baseball, Srikant’s interests include fitness, basketball, and traveling.