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Why The Blue Jays Had to Trade Josh Donaldson
By: Vince Cistola Posted in: Baseball on September 3, 2018
Simply put, they didn’t want to gamble $18M.
I have been a Blue Jays fan all my life, but never really studied the team until a few years ago. I started analyzing every move they made and tried to think like the team would think. Every move a sports team makes is a very well thought out and calculated. They can’t make knee jerk calls on players because of the cause and effect every move will make. I do not fall in love with players, I know they will come and they will go. No matter who is on the team, I love the guys who take the diamond every night. To be honest, when a player leaves the team, whether by trade or otherwise, I really couldn’t care less about how they do. If I see it in the news or on Twitter, so be it.
With all that in mind, my past few days with the drama that has Josh Donaldson drama have not been filled with angst, but rather with intrigue. At the start of August, if you had of told me he would be traded, I would have said you were insane. You can’t trade a player that is on the DL and I saw no hope of him returning to the Jays. At the time, I knew nothing about trading a player who was on a minor league rehab stint. As the middle of the month came and went, I was totally comfortable with him remaining a Blue Jay until the end of the year. The question then would be, would they qualify him? Even in the middle of August, my answer was yes, it was worth the gamble. As you will see, my opinion changed.
I first heard, last week, of the scenario where Josh could appear in rehab games and be placed on revocable waivers. I had zero doubts that he would clear, what with him being owed around $4 million. I was still of the opinion that there would not be a single team that would even take him. He had missed three months and only played 36 games this season. Yes, he is Josh Donaldson, but would a team trade for that kind of player.
Of course we now know the answer is yes. As he started his first rehab game, I turned my thoughts to “why trade him? Why not keep him and give him the qualifying offer?” After a lot of debate in my mind, and weighing the pros and cons of the QO, I came a realization that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t worth the $18M. Yes he is still Josh Donaldson, the 2015 MVP, but in reality, he is not the 2015 Josh Donaldson. In the last two years he has been frequently hurt. This season he has played 36 games. Sure he is Josh Donaldson, but if he accepted the qualifying offer, he also could not be traded until June 15. Could the Blue Jays be sure enough that he would be healthy to flip at the deadline again? If he did return next year, he would most definitely be traded as he cannot receive a second qualifying offer.
There was also the roster construction to consider. The Blue Jays have a glut of infielders. Though mostly forgotten about, Brandon Drury is a Blue Jay and is controlled for four more years. The Blue Jays didn’t trade for him not to use him. He could easily be the starting third baseman, next year, and play there until the Vlad is called up for good. Morales really improved his play from June to now, and is under contract for 2019 at an affordable sum. While most fans would love to see him gone, I am not so sure.
What could the Jays really get back for a guy who can only be traded to an AL club that needs a DH? If his hitting binge didn’t cause him to be traded in August, and I mean from June on, he probably isn’t being traded over the winter either.
So after figuring out what would they would do if he accepted, I considered the other side of the coin.
What would they get back if he did declined it and signed elsewhere? The compensation for a person with a qualifying offer is definitely not what it used to be. In order to figure out what kind of pick they would get, you have to try and figure out how much would he sign for as a free agent. From one article that I read, which quoted an anonymous source, the Jays figured they would get a pick that was around the 89th place in the draft. I didn’t try to figure out what the contract would be, but looking at the rules, if a team is a non revenue sharing team who doesn’t exceed the luxury tax, which the Jays are, and the player signs for less than $50M, they receive a pick after the Competitive Balance B round.
Would Donaldson not even exceed $50M? A couple years ago that was unfathomable. However, after taking the last two seasons and the climate of last years free agent market and the fact that this winter will be the deepest free agent market in over a decade, it’s not that hard to figure out that $50M is a very realistic number. Assuming that he gets a 3 year deal, the Average Annual Value only has to be just over $15M per year. Yes people are going to say “He’s Josh freaking Donaldson!!!”, but teams do not think that way. They think “What have you done lately?”. Unfortunately for Donaldson, the sad reality is “not much”.
Last winter, teams didn’t look at Jose Bautista and say “Well look at all the home runs he hit the past few years” and pay him millions. He had to either accept a minor league deal at league minimum, or not’ play. Now Donaldson won’t be that bad, but his hopes of a huge pay day have evaporated.
I could have stopped right there and had the realization that it made sense to trade him.
However, Atkins alluded that there was friction during and after their failed contract extension talks. Was Josh disappointed because management gave him $23M last winter, based on performance? First of all, that is the way that arbitration works. You are paid on the previous year’s performance and Josh was injured in 2017. Second of all, the $23M still represented a record amount for a position player in arbitration. Not even Bryce Harper got a number that high. Third, he was played $23M (minus around $4M) for playing 36 games. Sorry, but it’s very hard for me to feel sorry for him.
There may have been other issues that we don’t know about, and perhaps never will.
So, add all of this up and you can see a relationship that was virtually destroyed. However, I also thought “Wait a minute, why would Josh be so upset with being traded to a team that has postseason designs? Should he not be happy that the Jays are willing to do that despite the fact he is on the DL?” There is only one reason that I can even possibly fathom as to why he wouldn’t want that – he won’t be able to get a qualifying offer. I, of course, can’t speak to his reasons why, but it could very well be that he was planning on accepting the qualifying offer, knowing he would not get $18M in 2019 as a free agent. He could have built his value and be a free agent next season. I think any other player would have jumped at the chance to go to a playoff team. .
The fact remains, he was traded. Did the Blue Jays get enough for him? I think they did. They had a damaged asset, one who was owed $4M more, one who was still on the 60 day disabled list, was not even on the 40 man roster, and who played in only 36 games. Also, he was not even hitting awell when he was playing. His trade value was very, very low. Despite this, and by paying $2.7M of his remaining contract, Atkins was able to extract a player who is likely on Cleveland’s 40 man roster. The word is it’s a 26 year old pitcher who had Tommy John surgery last spring. Since he is from Cleveland, he would be well known to the front office. In my opinion, to get a player who is already advanced enough to be a AAA pitcher for a guy with the “baggage” of Donaldson has to be considered a coup. Not one player who was traded on August 31 netted a player who was on the other team’s 40 man roster. On top of that, none of Donaldson’s performance in Cleveland will impact the player coming back. He can blow out his shoulder in the first game and the Jays still get the exact same player.
So, to sum it all up, was Josh great while he was here? Absolutely he was. One more thing to keep in mind; even if they kept him, gave him the qualifying offer and he accepted it and stayed, he was in reality only going to be a Blue Jay for another season. Yes, we never got the proper goodbye, but in the circumstances presented to them, the Blue Jays decided that an asset who is already regarded high enough to be on Cleveland’s 40 man, was worth more than an $18M gamble on a third baseman who would be nothing more than a trade chip, if he was healthy.
The Blue Jays were simply not comfortable enough with rolling the dice and I am 100% okay with that.