Rumor Check: Josh Donaldson
A couple days ago it was reported by FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi that the St. Louis Cardinals have an interest in Toronto Blue Jays’ third baseman Josh Donaldson, though the two parties have yet to hold any formal trade discussions. This is really an extension on something that the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold has been talking about for a few months now, that the Cardinals had always intended to pursue a third baseman this year and Donaldson was one of the key players on their list that could be available.
Donaldson checks a lot of the boxes of the kind of hitter the Cardinals would like to bring in. Over the past four seasons he’s batting .284/.375/.518 and averaged 33 home runs, 103 RBI, and 7.8 WAR. He’s been the only guy in baseball able to consistently hold a candle to Mike Trout. He’s also been a neutral to slightly above average third baseman defensively.
He is in the final year of a 2 year, $28.65 million deal, but still has one year of arbitration remaining before he will hit free agency after the 2018 season.
There are a few question marks around Donaldson that need to be addressed.
First, he has had a couple injuries this season. He missed time on the disabled list for a right calf injury and then he injured his knee while stretching just a couple weeks ago and since then his performance has dropped off tremendously.
Until the knee injury he had been batting .286/.389/.554, right on par with his recent success. Since it he has hit .140/.275/.209 in 12 games. How long will that take him to come out of?
Second, he is also 31 years old and is a free agent at the end of next season. He will also likely be the highest paid Cardinal in 2018 unless the team ends up bringing back Lance Lynn (which I also support). This can work in the Cardinals’ favor as the return will likely be less than if he was locked up long-term. He should not get an Adam Eaton-esque return.
He will turn 33 years old the winter he hits free agency, so if the Cardinals intended to consider bringing him back at that point, what does that contract look like? How deep are you willing to go to lock him up or are you okay taking the draft pick and pursuing another franchise bat that offseason, which looks like it will feature Manny Machado and Bryce Harper as well.
And third, it will really depend on what the Blue Jays intend to do this season. They are currently 40-45, 8.5 games out of first place and tied for last in the American League East. But they also have some good young pieces and may be more interested in retooling their lineup using their largest trade piece rather than a committed rebuild, much like I’ve suggested the Cardinals should try with Matt Carpenter. So guys at the higher levels of the minors who can have an impact sooner may hold more interest to them.
Another factor to consider is that the Cardinals recently named Michael Girsch their new GM. It remains to be seen just how much leash he has been given out of the gate, but the organization expects to be active at the deadline and I think when we look at how John Mozeliak handled his first couple months in the GM’s office after the 2007 season, we see he quickly set the tone for his tenure. His first two moves were to ship out Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen as he set about turning an underperforming roster into a playoff contender.
Girsch has the same job, will he be given a similar opportunity? It wouldn’t surprise me.
Something that might also play a role is that the Blue Jays have Mark Shapiro as their President and CEO. He was previously with the Indians while Mozeliak and Indians GM Chris Antonetti traded often over the past several years. That could create some comfort as the two franchises discuss a deal.
The bottom line is always what the Blue Jays might be asking for. I expect that it would take two top level prospects as the core of a deal to get Donaldson. I think that as long as you can keep one of them from being Alex Reyes, I’m okay with that deal. Donaldson would be a game changing bat in the lineup that is mostly devoid of that ability. And I’m not content for the Cardinals to sit on their hands for a year and a half until the 2018-19 offseason.
The question is whether the Cardinals are okay with that cost? The organization has been reluctant over the past few years to part with multiple prospects for a single Major League player or dig deep to do what is required to make a franchise altering acquisition. Are they willing now?
That remains to be seen.