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Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Of Course the Cardinals Have Interest In Donaldson, But Can the Blue Jays Afford Not to Bite?

The decorations ship sometime in the middle of summer, hiding out in storage closets to be slowly unveiled once Labour Day passes. As October approaches you can already start to feel the music — the dreadful, hopelessly square music that will soon be omnipresent — close in around you. Even before Halloween, pumpkin spice lattes begin to give way to peppermint mochas and eggnog concoctions and rows of decorations spill into the aisles of stores.

You know, it’s true what they say. Bullshit season seems to arrive earlier and earlier every year.

And hark! What’s that I hear! Is it sleigh bells????…

Ahhhhhhhhh. Give me a hot fucking mug of cocoa for this shit!

Ho ho ho. We laugh, but, of course, I don’t actually think this is bullshit. I have no doubt that the Cardinals will try to come up with a package that entices the Jays enough to trade Donaldson to them (and make those just-announced games in Montréal next March all the more awkward!). I’m sure we’ll hear of other teams trying to do so as well. When we do, it won’t be bullshit. It just won’t necessarily be newsworthy, either.

There are few organizations in the game that wouldn’t benefit from having Josh Donaldson on their roster. In fact, the number is actually zero. I’m sure any team would welcome the chance to figure out how to accommodate both Josh and their incumbent third baseman. And with Donaldson unsigned beyond 2018, they’re all likely going to come crawling out of the woodwork, trying to entice the Blue Jays with offers this winter.

How could they not, really? The other teams in this league aren’t dumb. They see the Blue Jays posturing about taking another run at the playoffs and keeping their core of players mostly intact, but they all know that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro understand what a step backwards it would be for the organization to watch one of the three or four best players in the game walk away for a draft pick — and not even a high draft pick, either!

Yes, that’s right. In case you missed the changes in the new CBA, here, via Forbes, are the rules for draft pick compensation that teams will be working under this winter:

A Former Club of a Free Agent subject to draft pick compensation will receive the following:

  • A non-market disqualified Revenue Sharing Payee Club shall receive a selection immediately following the first round of the draft if the player signs a contract with a total guarantee of $50 million or more.
  • Clubs that break the Luxury Tax threshold shall receive a draft selection immediately following the fourth round of the next Rule 4 Draft.
  • All other former clubs shall receive a selection immediately following the Competitive Balance Round B of the next Rule 4 Draft (which follows the second round).

In plain English, a “non-market disqualified Revenue Sharing Payee Club” is a team that is eligible to receive revenue sharing. Though they used to receive this, thanks to the magical accounting of Paul Godfrey’s crew, since MLB switched their revenue sharing formula to be based on market size the Blue Jays are no longer one of the eligible clubs. They are also not over the luxury tax threshold, of course, meaning that the Jays fall into the third group. If Donaldson remains in Toronto all the way through 2018, then walks away as a free agent next winter, the Jays will receive a draft pick sandwiched between the second and the third rounds of the 2019 draft. Gone are the days of receiving a pick from the team who signed your former player.

How hard will a team like the Cardinals have to push before the Jays front office starts to see their offer as being in the best interest of the club?

Until the Jays sign Donaldson, that’s going to be the million damn dollar question.

Mark Shapiro has repeatedly said that it’s hard to see the club being better without Donaldson. And he’s repeatedly said that the aim is to try to wring another competitive year out of the club’s current core — something that’s not quite as far fetched as many dispirited fans want to believe, as Gideon Turk excellently explained in a piece today for BP Toronto on the Twins and the Jays’ path forward. But can the Jays be good enough with, say, a couple of cheap, young, legitimate big league pieces and most of Donaldson’s expected $20 million+ salary repurposed into mid-tier free agents who might even have some value at the trade deadline?

If you’re the front office, you could certainly make that argument — and quite easily make the argument that, unless you really think you can re-sign Donaldson, it would leave you better off in the long run. But can you sell it to the fans and to the media and to your bosses?

That’s going to be tougher. But it will depend on who is coming back and how those dollars are ultimately used. If, in one fell swoop, the Jays added a couple cheap Cardinals big leaguers in exchange for Donaldson, and threw all that freed-up payroll into taking Giancarlo Stanton off the Marlins’ hands, there would be celebrations in the streets of Toronto, even though we’d be losing a beloved, ass-kicking MVP in the process. But short of that…

The thing is, there’s a good chance that the front office going is be offered something for Donaldson this winter that takes whole lot of discipline from them to turn down. That puts them in a great negotiating position. And the fact that Donaldson’s value should still be plenty high at next year’s trade deadline helps in that regard, too. But in this year’s draft, the selection “immediately following the Competitive Balance Round B” was the 76th pick overall. Winning a World Series but losing Donaldson for only the 76th pick is a trade-off we’d all make. Winning the American League East but losing Donaldson for that is probably a trade-off you’d make, too. But do you do it for a Wild Card appearance? A shot at the Wild Card? And unless the club is unquestionably out of the race next July 31st (which only the worst of the worst teams really are), isn’t it a whole lot harder to justify moving him then than it is to do so now?

I want to believe that the Jays will hold firm, keep Donaldson, reload, and that everything will work out fine — maybe even with Josh signing on for several more years with the club. It’s certainly possible. But there’s a reason we’re already hearing these kinds of rumblings, and a reason we should expect to continue hearing them until either Donaldson puts pen to paper on an extension, or he reports to camp next February. Can the Jays refuse an offer they can’t refuse? Worse, can they sell enough 2018 season tickets between now and the Winter Meetings to then cynically change their public posture about remaining as competitive as possible?

At this point I wouldn’t necessarily rule anything out. And so, in that spirit, I say to you, Merry Bullshit Season! And a happy new beer! (Which I assume you’ll need to drink several of after thinking about all this.)

  • Matthew E

    The trouble the Jays have is that too many of their top players, in recent years, have been late bloomers. So they keep hitting free agency just as what are probably their prime years are ending, and the Jays have to keep deciding, sign him and risk him declining, or let him go and get nothing and he remains a superstar? Flip a coin. I have no idea what the right move is; I just hope that whatever they do works out.

  • Steve-O

    “But do you do it for a Wild Card appearance? A shot at the Wild Card?” For me, the answer is still an unqualified yes. Even just a shot at the WC means you might get in, and being in a coin flip game with a chance at a playoff run is totally worth it.

    But that’s just me. Mileage will surely vary.

  • Deener32

    Good god- how are we talking about this already?
    And how are we talking about unloading JD to a team that also missed the playoffs and has a lesser payroll than the Jays?

    This is quite simple- If you’re bumping up ticket prices by ~15% and leading the league in attendance, you sign your star player (and breadmaker) to the 5 or 6 year extension he deserves. Knowing full well that seasons 5 and 6 he will be overpaid.

    No reason a team that has as many resources, and as strong of fan support as the blue jays should take a backseat to anyone (let along the god damn Cardinals)

  • Deener32

    Further- How many teams would realistically be interested in Josh Donaldson as a free agent anyway? I’m sure every team wants him, but how many can afford a ~30 million dollar a year player and don’t have a fairly strong incumbent.

    I know, it’s JD. If a team has someone else there they can always move the other player off the position. Realistically though are we talking about maybe 4 or 5 teams being able to bid for his services?

    • Just Jeff

      This is an interesting point. Everyone will have their eyes on Machado and Harper as free agents. Donaldson likely is third on that list unless Kershaw opts out. That could dampen his market quite a bit. Machado will likely have to make his decision first before suitors turn to Donaldson.

      I put this in another post a couple of weeks ago, but Texas makes all kinds of sense as a suitor for Donaldson. They have cash to sign him in free agency and they’ll have a need (Beltre is up that year and I have to assume he’ll retire). It’s a repulsive thought, but that’s a pretty good fit for Josh, if he can’t get something done here.

  • Just Jeff

    Let me be clear…this team should do everything in their power to sign Josh Donaldson to an extension this offseason. Money should not be an issue. Position should not be an issue. The only stumbling blocks should be term and whether Josh wants to stick around to help usher in the Vlad/Bo generation of Jays.

    But if they can’t get a deal done this winter, I’d be really thinking hard about trading him.

    You just cannot afford to let him leave for what equates to a third round pick. What you could get for him in a trade would set up the next generation of Jays very nicely for 2019 and beyond.

    Why not wait until the trade deadline, you ask? What if next season for Josh Donaldson plays out exactly as this one did? What if he gets hurt or underperforms in the first half? Worse yet, what if he gets hurt in the second half and is on the DL at the trade deadline? Then you’re screwed! That’s a hell of a risk to take and quite frankly, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are paid to manage that type of risk.

    You try all offseason to get an extension done with Donaldson, but if you can’t put pen to paper prior to spring training, I would trade him.

    • BlueJayWay

      “But if they can’t get a deal done this winter, I’d be really thinking hard about trading him.

      You just cannot afford to let him leave for what equates to a third round pick. What you could get for him in a trade would set up the next generation of Jays very nicely for 2019 and beyond. ”

      I agree. Been saying this all year: if it were me, I’d either extend Donaldson this winter or trade him this winter. The thing is, if they don’t extend him this off season, he’s probably gone after 2018 anyway. I don’t mind punting 2018 and looking ahead to 2019 and 2020. That means either extend him now or trade him now and set things up for those years.

  • Mule or etc...

    “Gone are the days of receiving a pick from the team who signed your former player.”

    Techincally, the team signing the player would lose their first round pick and the player’s former team would gain a pick in the supplemental round that proceeded the first round.

    Of course, this is all meaningless nonsense now. Meaningless nonsense I can’t forget. Type B free agents, feel free to get out of my brain so I can finally make room for my brother’s birthday.

  • Oakville Jays

    I hope the Jays sign Donaldson to a contract extension this off season. he is a franchise icon & would get fans excited about 2018 & years going forward.

    however, I do think that Shapiro is risk averse. I doubt he will trade Donaldson until the All Star break next year. He will trade him if the team is not in a playoff position by next July. He will able to justify that decision. Trading Dosh before the season begins will create a firestorm by fans. It took 85 wins to get the second wildcard this year. The Jays should easily be able to win 85 games in 2018.