Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

McDonald: Trading Josh Donaldson Is Crazy. Or Is It?

Don’t be fooled by my name being on this piece, it’s by my good friend Darragh McDonald! Enjoy it, it’s good stuff! — Stoeten

* * *

In late September, with the Blue Jays limping to the end of a disappointing season, Bob Nightengale went and tweeted a thing.

And why wouldn’t they pursue Donaldson? He’s great. They’d be crazy not to call. But the Jays would be crazy to trade him. Billy Beane was crazy to do it. Perhaps we’re all a little crazy. I know I am.

But is it really crazy? I certainly considered it thus. And I didn’t even really give much thought to the scenario. After all, Donaldson is one year away from free agency. So, any team that wants him is trying to win in 2018. And as Jon Heyman reports, “The Toronto Blue Jays won’t consider trading Josh Donaldson unless they could find a trade that improves them for the 2018 season, sources tell FanRag Sports. Which is to say, he almost surely isn’t going anywhere.”

Okay, so, nothing to see here. Let’s move on. But then this Dave Cameron of FanGraph decided to see just how crazy the idea of trading Donaldson actually is and came up with this.

[Jedd] Gyorko is the guy who probably makes the most sense for Toronto in any Donaldson deal, given his experience at 3B, SS, and 2B. The Jays could slot him in as Donaldson’s replacement to begin the year, but if Guerrero forces his way to the big leagues — as Rafael Devers did last year — then he could easily be the middle infield alternative for when Tulo and Travis aren’t healthy. His positional flexibility makes him an ideal fit for the Jays roster, and thus I’d imagine he’d probably be required in any deal Toronto would be interested in making.

But Gyorko isn’t the only Cardinal who would fit well in Toronto. Matt Carpenter also looks like a guy who could give the Blue Jays significant flexibility, and a Gyorko/Carpenter package offer for Donaldson could be the kind of win-win deal that might help both sides.

The piece could be seen as a tad optimistic on how it would benefit the Jays. Especially the suggestion that Carpenter could seamlessly move off first base and provide more value by playing second, a position where hasnt really been a palatable defender since 2013. Then again, metrics like him better at third and also seem to like Gyorko at second. So, maybe that would be a way to make it work.

Regardless, the post does make an interesting case that its not totally bonkers to concoct a reasonable trade involving Donaldson where the Jays dont really hurt their chances in 2018 and simultaneously improve their outlook for the seasons beyond. Since Gyorko and Carpenter are under team control until 2020, it would certainly help the Jays as they try to integrate the next core of Vladdy, Bichette, Alford et al.

But one thing not considered in the piece is the outfield surplus of the Cardinals.

An article earlier this month from Kyle Glaser of Baseball America, entitled Cardinals Poised To Flood Outfield Trade Market, makes an interesting point.

Six of the Cardinals’ top 14 prospects are outfielders, and all have experience and success at Double-A or higher. Above them in the majors is a logjam of Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham and, to a degree, Jose Martinez.

Of course, the abundance of outfielders in St. Louis is interesting because thats precisely the primary need for the Toronto Blue Jays.

So, what if you swap in an outfielder for Gyorko or Carpenter?

Lets start with Gyorko and Donaldson as a base. Now, Gyorko has been a fine player over the past two years, but nowhere near as good as Donaldson. What if, instead of Carpenter, we evened out our hypothetical deal with Tommy Pham.

After four straight seasons producing an fWAR of 7.6 or higher (holy shit, he’s good), Donaldson slipped to 5.0 fWAR in 2017. This was mostly due to injury, as Donaldson played just 113 games after playing at least 155 in the previous four. So, he was essentially still playing as a 7-win player when on the field. Since Donaldson will be 32 soon, it’s possible that missing some time due to injury might became the new normal, preventing him from getting above the 5-win mark in future. Or not. Who knows?

Gyorko has been less consistent. After a solid breakout in 2013 where he put up 2.4 fWAR, his next two seasons were disappointments, coming in at 0.0 and 0.6. But after moving from San Diego to St. Louis, he was able to return to form, putting up 2.3 and 2.5 in 2016 and 2017.

Pham has had even less consistency than Gyorko. He managed to put up a solid 1.6 fWAR in just 52 games as a rookie in 2015. But in 2016, he was essentially replacement level, putting up only 0.1 across 78 games. 2017 was a massive breakout, producing 5.9 wins across 128 games. Do the Cardinals think this is sustainable? Do the Jays?

Even with some regression, Pham would be a huge upgrade for the Jays’ outfield. Of course, Gyorko offsets those gains by making third base worse. But this move would also free up more than 10 million bucks for the Jays. Donaldson is projected to earn 20.7 million through arbitration, according to MLBTR. Gyorko is under contract for 9 million in 2018, but with San Diego on the hook for 2.5 million (and has two more years of control, including a team option for 2020). Pham is still making the league minimum, having not yet reached 3 years service time.

So, while this certainly helps the Jays in the long-term, would they consider it to be an improvement for 2018? It’s tough to say. The difference between Donaldson and Gyorko is more or less offset by the difference between Pham and, say, Steve Pearce. But even if I’m being optimistic about that, there’s the extra cash that the Jays can use to spend elsewhere.

Now, would the Cards like this? They do have an outfield surplus, as mentioned above. Also, during his year-end press conference, John Mozeliak had this to say:

“There have been years where we sat up here and said, ‘Look, we have to go get a shortstop or a center fielder,'” Mozeliak said at the organization’s end-of-season press conference on Tuesday. “For us, we have a talented team, but when you look at our club, no one stood out as an All-Star, that threat. I think for all of us up here, it’s trying to find what that might look like.”

Maybe they feel they can part with a quality piece like Pham and still be all right. Or, perhaps even, that it’s at least worth the risk to get an obvious upgrade like Donaldson. But of course, trades don’t happen in a vacuum. The Cardinals would certainly have to weigh a deal like this against any other possible deals with other teams. Maybe they can get Stanton for far less. Or someone else. Maybe they just sign free agents and hold onto Pham. Maybe they want to hang onto Pham and deal the lesser outfielders like Piscotty.

This is three-dimensional chess here. And it’s impossible to predict that a specific trade like this will happen. And of course, there’s also the optics for Shapiro and Atkins to consider. After all, a year ago, when it seemed the Jays were close to losing Enacarnacion and Bautista within weeks of each other, ownership supposedly stepped up and gave them more money to at least keep José around another year. And now that Bautista’s on his way out, it might not be the ideal media play to send Donaldson out the door after him. And with certain segments of the media constantly stoking the anti-Shapiro/Atkins fires for the casual fan, I’m not sure they’re going to have a rational and objective response to the once-MVP being sent packing for two guys they might not even have heard of, because they play in the rarely-seen NL.

So, the reasons for a deal like this to not come to fruition probably outweigh the reasons it makes sense in a scrolling-through-Fangraphs kind of way. But is it crazy? Well, yeah, probably. But there’s not going to be more baseball for months. And with the hot stove seeming poised to have icicles dripping off it for a few more weeks as the Ohtani and Stanton sweepstakes play out, what else is there to do but dream up some bonkers trades and argue about them? Just 78 days till spring training!

  • ErnieWhitt

    I don’t think it’s crazy at all especially given the depth of the Cards pitching and outfield prospect depth. To me if you’re the Jays this is a transaction that could set you up for 2019 and beyond if you play it right. Giving Donaldson away is crazy but if you send some more to the Cards you might be able to get Reyes or Flaherty plus someone good for the OF.

  • El Cabeza

    Pham, Gyorko, Alex Reyes and another of their top 5 prospects. Only if the alternative is not signing JD to a 5 year extension before his arb date and thus trading him with less value at the deadline or getting a compensatory pick when he walks.

    If they won’t pay that price, walk away. Some team might get desperate and pay a similar or heavier price at the deadline, but it will be all prospects and that’s fine because, it will be dawn of the Vladito era at that point anyway.

      • The Original Mark

        Says who? The Blue Jays pissed away 18 years of control of Norris, Boyd, and Lairbourt for 2 1/2 months of David Price. You never know what a GM in a win now moment with a deep farm system will do.

        • revolu

          thats not the cardinals mo, not mention you’re asking for reyes, a top 5 prospect, pham and gyorko, that’s way more then norris package even if you factor in full season inflation

  • Josh

    FFFFFForget prospects. I don’t want prospects. Josh Donaldson in NL is MVP in 2018. So… Here’s the deal. St Louis can take it or leave it. STL gets: JD & Morales. TBJ gets: Pham, Gyorko and Carpenter.

        • Jimbo Jones

          Maybe, but for $23 million over two years? That seems a bit steep to me for a bench bat that, barring disaster, probably won’t get more than 180 PA a season.

          • The Humungus

            Right. That’s the idea of eating money to keep prospects.

            It’s sort of the opposite of what the Jays have done the last two years in taking on all sorts of salary to get Teoscar Hernandez, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez.

            The Cards have insane amounts of cash, spending a bit of it to keep your rich prospect pool wouldn’t be a bad idea for them. Especially when you consider the surplus value generated by having Reyes vs signing a FA pitcher.

  • Deener32

    Not crazy at all to explore trading JD– But you’d have to get a lot back and not sell out for 2018 to appease the fanbase (which is already pitch-forky when it comes to Atkins/SHapiro)

    I’m in the minority here, but I truly do believe Donaldson gets re-signed by the jays. There isn’t a lot of money tied up beyond 2019 and all indications (if you believe he went to management proactively with a few weeks left in the season) is that he likes playing here. Pretty hard to not at least seriously explore extending him if you are the Jays.

  • drunk man walking

    Before spring training, 10 years ago Shapiro said the following “I can’t present you with a scenario where it’s acceptable to us or to our relationship with our fans that involves trading C.C. or examining trading him,” He got traded that summer. That JD gets traded before August 1st seems almost a certainty, unless a much better team is on the field next summer than was on the field this summer I’m guessing.

  • Joseph W Bats

    I see the media and fans constantly referring to the Jays ‘competing’ in 2018. Competing for what, exactly? I think there’s a difference between Atkins and Shapiro talking about putting together a competitive team (in order to keep ticket sales brisk) and the fans actually thinking the team will be good/ make the playoffs. This team is not very good right now and it’s hard to imagine them being better in 2018.
    And can we finally, once and for all, shelve the idea that JD might sign long-term? I don’t think that’s a desirable outcome anyway. He’s not 27.
    So, if my premise is true that the Jays will not be particularly good in 2018 and that JD won’t and shouldn’t come back (from the Jays perspective), then what’s stopping them from making smart baseball decisions? If there’s a good deal for the Jays, do it. If not, hold on and the play the season out with JD batting 2nd. Dealing him is the opposite of crazy.

  • Voidhelix

    That’s an incredibly bad offer for Danoldson. Why? Because we can sign Neil Walker as a FA, that’s why. He’d essentially be our Carpenter, and would only require cash to acquire. You would trade Donaldson for Gyorko? An average 3rd baseman? LUNACY. The Cardinals would need to give up guys like Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader and Jack Flaherty, to get Donaldson. MLB ready, TC and low cost. This entire concocted narrative is asinine AF.

      • GrumblePup

        I was trying to cheers you, but accidentally trashed you. Then I panicked and trashed you again. So then I cheersed you 3 times to make up for it.

        *I don’t know if you’ll actually be able to see all my trashing and cheersing, or if the comment system will fix all that… but if it doesn’t, that was all me.

  • heatdreamer

    The deal is JD (with a 24 hour for extension similar to Doc) + Osuna+ Pearce for Gyroko+ Weaver+ Flaherty+Piscotty (RF) + Alcantara + Diaz. That would be a reasonable return 3 players for JD, 2 players for Osuna + 1 player for Pearce.
    Osuna is replaced by Sanchez. The MLB prospects of 3 pitchers will enhance the TBJ for years to come.

    Allows to make one more trade for Ozuna and Gordon (Lead Off hitter) for Travis + 4 prospects including SRF+ Gurriel+ Maese+ Reese McGuire. Jays are a better team long term, still with a power hitter and a long term RF with Piscotty. Pillar is future trade bait.

    Trading of JD + Osuna is the first step to make the Blue Jays better. Jays require a good leadoff hitter, with Gordon that will help. With Martin the young pitching SP, ( now you have 7 players) will be well mentored. Smoak, Morales, and Ozuna is almost the same price as JD.

      • heatdreamer

        Dakins, can you guarantee, that Sanchez will not turn into the next Al Leiter, Osuna saving almost 40 games a year and should Sanchez achieve the same success. What is wrong with that.
        In 2019 with Nate Pearson throwing 100 MPH pitches, he can start in the bullpen initially and Sanchez can replace Estrada or Happ
        The goal what is best for the team.

  • Matty

    Trading Donaldson makes a bunch of sense if you’re trying to sign guys like Jay Bruce to improve your team. If you’re trying to get guys like Darvish and Ohtani or Arrieta you obviously don’t trade Donaldson.

    And if you are trading Donaldson you would want more than Gyorko and Carpenter. You would want young, controllable, potential future studs that would line up with the Jays 2019/2020 club.

    If you’re trying to win, you don’t trade Donaldson and if you’re trading Donaldson, you don’t want win now players

  • Oakville Jays

    I think that trading Josh Donaldson before the season begins would be the white flag of surrender for the Jays. Shapiro has to make every reasonable effort to sign him to a long term contract. Shapiro’s only hope to avoid a fan backlashis if Donaldsonds makes a public statement that he refuses to sign a contract extension under any circumstance & demands a trade.

    • drunk man walking

      They can always leak a number which shows 1) he made an outrageous demand or 2) they made a strong offer which was turned down, and see if that makes them less unpopular.