In this six-part series, theScore's MLB editors break down the pros and cons of signing the top free agents in this year's class and predict where they'll end up. Today, we're looking at Josh Donaldson, a three-time All-Star and former AL MVP who split the 2018 season between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians.
Donaldson was one of the most feared hitters in baseball from 2013 through 2017. Only Mike Trout was worth more than Donaldson's 34.3 WAR among hitters throughout that period. The veteran reached his peak in 2015 during his first year in Toronto, hitting .297/.371/.568 with 41 home runs, 41 doubles, 122 runs scored, and 123 RBIs en route to being named AL MVP. He had the most dangerous bat in a lineup featuring Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 40 and 39 home runs that season, respectively.
Age and lingering injuries don't mix well
When you break out as a 27-year-old like Donaldson did in 2013, the window for high-end performance is a narrow one. Few players sustain elite productivity well into their 30s, especially when injuries start piling up. Donaldson hasn't been 100-percent healthy for two seasons, and it's showed. He played only 52 games in 2018, and although he was active to open the season, the soon-to-be 33-year-old had trouble throwing the ball to first base with strength and accuracy. Donaldson's calf injury has reduced him to a shell of his former self, which is a concern for potential suitors.
But he's rebounded before
Maybe 2018 is a write-off, or maybe Donaldson will simply require more maintenance days going forward. If you're feeling optimistic, feast your eyes on his finish to the 2017 campaign. The Blue Jays' brief window to contend was slamming shut, but "The Bringer of Rain" still returned. After a woeful July - and mixed first half - he flipped a switch. Donaldson hit a home run on Aug. 1 and never stopped, slashing .302/.410/.698 with 22 home runs and 47 RBIs through to the end of the season. It didn't help the big picture for the team (the Jays went 26-30 after July), but the two-time Silver Slugger Award winner was back with a vengeance, reminding everyone that it was foolish to underestimate his skill. And while his stint in Cleveland was short-lived, Donaldson finished the 2018 regular season healthy and hit three home runs over 16 games while batting a clean .280.
St. Louis Cardinals
- Donaldson was connected to the Cardinals through trade rumors last offseason, and St. Louis even reportedly offered star pitching prospect Jack Flaherty in exchange (which Toronto rejected). The Cardinals dodged that bullet, but adding Donaldson now would still address a big issue. While the club has plenty of fine offensive pieces, Donaldson would immediately slot in as the biggest difference-maker if he's able to hit to his potential. The Cardinals also need to upgrade at the hot corner because power prospect Nolan Gorman won't get the call for a couple years. It'd be better if Donaldson were left-handed, as the Cardinals lack lefty pop, but that's a problem they'll happily deal with if he's healthy.
- Hey, did you know Alex Anthopoulos - the man who helped orchestrate the trade to bring Donaldson to the Blue Jays - is now the Braves' general manager? That's the popular reason why Donaldson could go to Georgia, but it also makes a ton of sense for Atlanta's roster. Johan Camargo is a solid third baseman, and he had a strong 2018 on both sides of the ball. But he's also shown some versatility as a defender and can shift around depending on need. Donaldson could be the one piece that puts the surprise Braves over the top, giving them legitimate contender status.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Assuming his injuries have depleted Donaldson's chances of getting a multi-year deal, the Rays could swoop in with a mutually beneficial offer. The Rays could sign Donaldson to a one-year contract that has some incentive-based landmarks written into it, giving him an opportunity to rehabilitate his status as an impact hitter. Think of Adrian Beltre when he went to the Red Sox for one year as a 31-year-old who appeared to be on the downswing of his career. He parlayed an incredible season into eight years with the Texas Rangers. Other teams could fit a similar mold to the Rays in this scenario, but they work best because Donaldson could push them into the postseason, and their situation at third base is tenuous with Matt Duffy an enigma and Christian Arroyo unproven.
Donaldson signs a three-year, $55-million deal with the Braves.
Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.