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
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In late September, with the Blue Jays limping to the end of a disappointing season, Bob Nightengale went and tweeted a thing.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) September 29, 2017
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 hasn’t 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 it’s not totally bonkers to concoct a reasonable trade involving Donaldson where the Jays don’t 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 that’s precisely the primary need for the Toronto Blue Jays.
So, what if you swap in an outfielder for Gyorko or Carpenter?
Let’s 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!