Blue Jays Made the Right Decision by Trading Josh Donaldson

The Toronto Blue Jays may have dodged a bullet by pulling off a much criticized trade in the final moments of the August 31 waiver trade deadline.

 

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Team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins have received a strong amount of backlash this past weekend on social media by fans who were angry and puzzled at their decision to trade Josh Donaldson and cash to the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later.

 

While some of the hatred spewed in the front office’s direction was patently absurd (I feel confident in saying Shapiro is not a mole trying to sabotage the Blue Jays to help Cleveland), the issue of lost value is certainly valid.

 

The decision to hold on to the 2015 MVP in 2018 rather than trade him prior to the season will be a point of contention for years. No one really knows what the offers for Donaldson were like in the winter. One would assume they were better than a player to be named later, but without actual names it is hard to make a straight comparison.

 

So when the front office decided to keep him, likely on the suggestion of ownership, it left them with several scenarios for how to deal with him during and after the season.

 

Ultimately the worst case ended up happening.

 

Donaldson was hurt for most of the season, and likely still is. The team could not trade him by the July 31 deadline, so they had to rush him into a rehab assignment last week so that they could move him for whatever they could get by August 31 when he cleared waivers. Not exactly the heartwarming exit most fans were hoping for.

 

As mentioned last month, once Donaldson got hurt and the team was effectively out of it, the front office only had three choices: 1) qualify him as a free agent, 2) bring him back on a short-term deal due to his depressed value , or 3)  trade him when he got healthy.

 

After the season Donaldson has had in 2018, specifically the injuries, it became increasingly less desirable to go with options 1 and 2 above.

 

Some fans were and still are wondering why the team could not have just qualified him after the season. The worst case scenario in doing that would have been having him back in the lineup for another year, hoping for better health, so why not go that route and then try to trade him next July rather than trade him now?

 

The problem with that logic is that bringing Donaldson back at all, whether by him accepting the qualifying offer or signing him to a separate deal (see Jose Bautista in 2017), would have been counter productive.

 

He will be 33 in 2019. He missed most of 2018 at age 32 due to injuries, and had injury issues in 2016 and 2017 as well. He is an extremely risky player now due to age and injury history, and on top of that, bringing him back at nearly $20 million in 2019 would be at the expense of having a real look at potential third base options like Brandon Drury and eventually Vladimir Guerrero Jr (who should be up at the end of April in 2019).

 

The compensation pick aspect became less desirable as well because it is September and Donaldson is still not healthy, so the chances of him declining the qualifying offer were shrinking by the day. The qualifying offer only makes sense when there is a near certainty that it will be rejected. That was not the case with Donaldson, just the opposite, actually.

 

Taking that type of financial risk (the player accepting the qualifying offer) for a rather small chance at getting a compensation pick that will likely fall somewhere in the 70-80 range is rather extreme, not even factoring all of the other negative ramifications of it.

 

So when you look at it in its totality, if the team had kept Donaldson and given him the qualifying offer after the season, then they would have:

  • been paying him close to $20 million in 2019 in the likelihood that he accepted
  • been praying that he stayed healthy and productive in order to trade him next July with no guarantee that the offers would be any better than the PTBNL they will receive for him now or the compensation pick that would have come had he rejected the qualifying offer.
  • blocked internal, potentially long-term options from getting an opportunity at playing time in 2019
  • lost the opportunity to qualify him again after 2019 since a player can only be qualified once

 

All that, and the only upside was getting a compensation pick in the 70-80 range. That puts things in a much clearer perspective for the front office.

 

When all of the above is considered, the right decision was the one the team actually made on August 31. They were able to avoid the negative backlash if they decided to not give him the qualifying offer had they kept him, and will end up getting a player that according to Atkins is a “near-term” player who will help the team very soon.

Rumors are circulating that the PTBNL will end up being right-handed starter Julian Merryweather, who has missed all of 2018 with Tommy John Surgery. While he will be 27 next year and may not be ready to pitch until mid-2019, he was showing glimpses of mid-to-bottom of the rotation upside prior to this injury with good velocity. That seems like a fair return, if it ends up being him, for one month of an injured player, and certainly better value than a comp pick.

 

There will be a lot of debate on the Donaldson saga, at least until the team’s performance on the field can make everyone forget about it, but in the end, the only real upside in this whole thing was trading him.

 

Every other scenario brought on expensive risk, and the team can now move on to their next chapter without that risk looming over their heads.

 

Think of it another way:

 

The Blue Jays made the playoffs in 2016. Not even two years later, we are looking at a reality where:

  • Donaldson may have to settle for a one year deal in free agency
  • Edwin Encarnacion is having a comparable 2018 season to Kendrys Morales
  • Bautista is on his third team this season after signing for $1 million
  • Troy Tulowitzki has missed the last year and a half and was replacement level prior to that
  • Russell Martin is now an expensive, but still productive, back-up catcher/utility infielder

 

It is hard to say goodbye to something so fleeting as the excitement of the 2015/16 playoff runs, but reality tends to hit very hard for teams on short-term windows. The stars of yesterday are no longer the stars of today.

 

The front office has guessed right on some very unpopular decisions so far, from not giving Bautista a long-term extension prior to 2016, to moving on from Encarnacion after he rejected their initial offer prior to 2017, and not making an offer to David Price  after 2015 while replacing him with J.A. Happ who not only out-performed him over three years but also yielded two players in return for him this past trade deadline.

 

The decision to move Donaldson, and the timing of it, certainly left a lot to be desired, but could end up being another one of those decisions that works out in the end. Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Srikant Kabse

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.