Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Jays and Josh Donaldson Talked Extension, Didn’t Get Anywhere

Today in fairly unsurprising, but nonetheless noteworthy news: the Jays and Josh Donaldson are kind of far apart when it comes to trying to find a fair number for a contract extension.

Were this not the case, they’d probably have had an extension in place by now. It is, however, disappointing stuff — made only somewhat less disappointing by the fact that… uh… the team might have a point on this one.

Of course, we don’t know what number the Jays are willing to offer — we know there is a number; Ross Atkins said as much at a recent Pitch Talks event (“we have come up with a clear walk-away that we would be willing to commit to him for him to remain a Blue Jay probably for the rest of his career”) — and I’d be very willing to bet that it’s lower than what most fans would like. But some of the stuff Donaldson is saying just doesn’t seem — to me at least — to jibe with the current realities of the market (especially for a player who will be 33 years and four months old in the first week of the first year of his next contract.

A few thoughts on this:

  • The word “unfair” irks me a little, as did that bit as a whole. Donaldson’s ultimate point is surely right, because the more finely tuned the data can be, the better off the assessment will be, and so basing numbers off a very generalized aging curve could definitely do a disservice to certain players. But I can’t believe that teams aren’t doing much more sophisticated work on aging that that. Not only that, the data is the data. It’s not “unfair,” it just might not be getting applied in a way to get the most meaningful information out of it.
  • Does the fact that he’s talking about “longevity” and “bringing rain” until age 39-40 mean that he’s looking for a contract that will last that long??? Because even in the most optimistic scenario for him — which, given the way teams have shown their willingness not to pay old free agents this winter, is certainly not one he should be banking on — that’s a serious stretch. His age 39 season would be the seventh season of his next contract. As I said on Twitter, any team would take him for three years (age 33-35). Plenty still would go to four. Some of those would probably go to five just to get his signature on a deal. Are there enough of those to extract a sixth year from someone? Starts to get hard to believe there, I think.
  • Has any player ever thought he was going to break down in his mid-30s? Which isn’t to say that Josh will, but that what players believe about their own ability to stay healthy isn’t exactly reliable — a point agents probably ought to do a better job of driving home to their clients. You don’t become a Josh Donaldson without being supremely competitive and supremely confident, I don’t think, so I understand why he would want to think that way, it’s just…
  • José Bautista was supposed to be the guy who could break the aging curve through new age fitness and nutrition techniques, but age caught up to him hard and fast. It always wins. And while José is but one example — and an example of a player who hit free agency ahead of his age-36 season, it’s worth noting. Still, his story ought to resonate with Josh — and I’m sure it’s an example the Blue Jays will use to illustrate why they hold firm and can’t let themselves get sentimental. Had they met in the middle on Bautista in the spring of 2016, that deal right now would be a problem.
  • Scary as the aging stuff may be, I don’t think anyone would expect the 32-year-old Donaldson to turn in a José-Bautista-at-age-36 season season anytime soon. Like Atkins said at Pitch Talks, and like Donaldson says he believes, the Jays would certainly do a deal at the price they want. No doubt he’d take one, too. So what might the two sides be willing to do? If I had to guess, I think the Jays would be willing to settle at four years and $80 million, and Donaldson would presumably take five years and $175 million. Again, completely guessing, but I think the Jays would go north from there, and Donaldson would go south. The crucial question is; by how much? Because if those guesses are anywhere close to correct, that’s a pretty significant gap.
  • Are they good guesses, though? I know there will be more money to be spent next winter than there have been this winter, and more big spenders looking to spend it, but how much is that really going to change for players looking to get paid big money into their late thirties? Machado and Harper, who will both be 26 on Opening Day 2019, will absolutely get their mega-deals, and then maybe the teams that lose out on them will consider splashing cash on Donaldson. But I don’t know. And if Donaldson spends a bunch of time hurt or his performance takes a dip in 2018, then I definitely don’t know. There’s a lot of risk he would be taking here by going to free agency with the biggest drivers of his market, his 2018 play and his health, still needing to play out. (If the opposite happens, and he signed on somewhat team friendly terms now and then had a typical, healthy Josh Donaldson season, while he might end up missing out on tens of millions of dollars, he’d at least still be a very wealthy man.)
  • The notion that talks were cordial and may yet reopen are, at least, good, but it’s not looking great for the chances of Donaldson staying long-term with the Jays right at the moment. But were they ever? As much as this feels like big news, it’s more just an affirmation of the status quo.
  • Perhaps when we hear what J.D. Martinez gets from the Red Sox — a deal that, at the time of this writing, is reportedly getting very close to happening — we’ll have a better idea of where Josh’s market might realistically go. Last month for the Athletic I looked at a group of twelve players, six who performed just a little bit better by WAR in their age 27-31 seasons than Donaldson, and six who performed a little worse (while trying to find those who did so while being in the same ballpark as Josh with respect to wRC+ and the defensive component of Fangraphs’ WAR). My group averaged 35.4 WAR from 27 to 31; Donaldson’s total for that span was 35.6. Their average wRC+ was 148; Donaldson’s was 149. From age 33 to 37, the years of Donaldson’s next contract, they averaged 17.8 WAR between them. At $9 million per win, that’s about $160 million over five. Craig Edwards of Fangraphs did a similar thing on J.D. Martinez recently, based on both some similarly chosen comps as well as more standard application of the aging curve, and projected him out to just above 16 WAR over the next seven years. Could be somewhat similar total dollar numbers.
  • UPDATE: Martinez details are rolling in, and it’s interesting. It’s a five year deal, with an opt-out after year two. Bob Nightengale says it will be for $110 million. There’s not much value to Donaldson to have an opt-out, so that’s probably not an aspect that would be copied, but the price tag is indeed interesting. The aging curve that Edwards used at Fangraphs puts Martinez at 14.2 WAR over five years. This means that, if we buy the 17.8 WAR average as Donaldson’s baseline, Josh should certainly be in line for more than that. But man, if Martinez can only get five years, even that seems maybe a tall order for J.D. Teams are being disciplined.
  • UPDATE PART TWO: And the other thing about Martinez as a comp is the fact that, though their WAR totals aren’t comparable, if you worry about Donaldson’s defence (which I probably don’t think you should yet, though his metrics have an ugly trend to them; UZR by year since 2014: +15.5, +9.2, +4.2, -0.9) and think maybe he’s it’s really the bat that we need to think about most, he and Martinez (who provides no defensive value — especially now with Boston, where he’ll mostly DH). Donaldson’s last four years by wRC+: 130, 154, 155, 149. And Martinez? 154, 136, 141, 166. If you’re paying Josh more than Martinez, you’re basically doing it for defence. You’d also be banking on a similar decline despite their age difference. Neither sounds especially smart. So…
  • This ought to go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: obviously Rogers should just kick the Jays some extra budget money to make sure they can pay to keep their star player at a fair price for both sides without constraining anything else the Jays want to do, rather than making them play hardball for every dollar all the damn time. But such is not reality, unfortunately. I guess we’ll just wait and see…
  • Oakville Jays

    Good Post with detailed information. I don’t think Shapiro is willing to pay extra for franchise type players like Donaldson. He has said in previous years that fans won’t come out to the ballpark to see a star player on a losing team. I am upset that the team hasn’t signed Donaldson to an extension by now. The scenario is set to trade him in July if the team is out of playoff contention by then.

    • Shapiro’s statement doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to pay for star players, it means he doesn’t want to sign bad contracts that impede his ability to put together winning teams.

      Like I say, my guess is that there’s such a gap that I don’t know how one can realistically be upset that they haven’t found a number that works for both sides. And if I also had to guess, I’d guess that it’s not the Blue Jays who are coming in especially low but Donaldson who is coming in especially high. That back-and-forth between Heyman and Donaldson last week was about that notion, but it wasn’t the first time I’d heard it. Which isn’t to say I don’t think the Jays shouldn’t also be flexible, but I’d like to think they have a pretty good read on the market. The “teams value players in the same way these days” stuff is maybe a bit of a message.

      • Oakville Jays

        I guess it depends on what a “bad contract ” for Donaldson is. It seems that Atkins has a “number ” for Josh & they may not deviate from it . Anthopoulos took huge risks on contract extensions for late bloomers like Edwin & Bautista. Both players generated WAR far in excess of what the Jays paid them. Both players have become franchise icons. On the other hand, Ricky Romero’s contract was a flop. If I was running the Jays, I would be willing to pay extra to ensure that Josh is a Blue Jay for the next 5 years. Donaldson is a franchise icon & should be rewarded.

        The Jays should never be in a position again where they have to trade a Doc Halladay type player again.

        • Guzman's Jheri Curl

          The difference being that the Jays signed those extensions when Joey bats and EE were in their late 20’s with best years ahead…In both cases when they wanted subsequent big extensions (JB wanted $150M over 5 years & EE apparently wanted $90M+ over 4 years) JB ended up with 1 yr deal at less than $20M and EE 3yrs at $60M. IE your examples contradict your argument. Paying for sentimental reasons and past performance is a great way to make fans happy in the offseason, not how you build sustainable winning

          • Kris

            JB/EE contracts are examples of why the Jays should look at signing Stroman and/or Sanchez long-term not Donaldson. Donaldson will be 33 plus when he signs his next deal. I am open to signing him but there is a limit. We can’t jump on Jays or Donaldson (depending on what side you are on) for not getting a deal done because we don’t know what the Jays offered or what Donaldson. What if Donaldson is going the JB route and saying he is fit, he is “special”and the age curve doesn’t apply to him. The “bring rain at age39-40” makes me worry that he is looking at 6-7 years not 4-5 years. Teams in today market are worry about the age curve with older players. I say lets test Donaldson out. See what he does this season, if Donaldson is asking for a ton of years then let the market cut those years down like they did for EE. Plus there is a ton of free agents out there next year so it will be a buyer market. If Donaldson leaves then just spend your cash somewhere else.

        • lukewarmwater

          But Oakville you know and I know that isn’t the way Rogers operates. Yesiree they can find Kendry Morales twin brother to play third base at a lot cheaper price. I mean let us not forget Rogers only drew 3.2 million fans and they are mid size market. They are poor. Btw my local garage car wash sale went great today to help the cash starved Rogers. Btw I will admit Rogers went first class in those classy new expensive butt kissing knee pads that they gave out to their usual shills and lap poodles. Wow this is going to be a long, long season , thank God for the leafs and Raptors who will get us through to at least the end of May.

      • Guzman's Jheri Curl

        Jays can’t afford to overpay for another aging infielder on top of Tulo. Not a surprise JD wants big term and money to pass on his big FA opportunity & given the aging curve data and lack of market for mega deals into late 30’s these days, Jays are probably right to be patient. This was the likely outcome all along…Twitter bashing of Jays FO is growing so old. There are a lot of questions that can be answered from now until the deadline and FA (JD health/performance, team performance, performance of other rising stars in the system etc), which will help guide decision making. This was the probable result all along. JD getting less term than he is currently asking for is also very likely.

        • lukewarmwater

          Yeah why bash an ownership and management that saw 3.2 million fans go through the turnstyles. We are a mid size market and I’m glad you get it Guzman. Paying high long term saleries are for those clubs who want to WIN THE WORLD SERIES. The Jays have returned to there normal position under Rogers namely mediocritiy but thanks for the 2 years of playoff ball, I mean what more could a Jays fan ask for an owner that delivers 10% or so of their ownership of the team. Lord give me strength to put up with the obvious ASS KISSING that will predominate in here over a very long season while the Yankees and Red Sox used us as a punching bag during the season.

  • Rick haley

    Andrew, an enjoyable read. I never thought JD would sign an extension. He was always going to go to FA. Having said that, I hope they can sign him at a fair price in FA. The JDM contract is worth 110 miles over 5 years front loaded. I honestly don’t see JD getting much more.

    • Paul Beestons Grass Surface

      You are probably right but ego may the in the way. He is human and might not want to appear like he his coming back with cap in hand. Remember Andre Dawson. He pretty much took a hit to tell the expos to stuff it.

  • obviouslywow

    I’m with you Stoeten; I love JD and would love to keep him but it’s hard to take his side here. When there were reports 2 years ago that Bautista was looking for 150 million at 5 or 6 years, I knew that was probably too much but part of me wanted them to just do it. Thankfully they didn’t do it – and that was before the market fell out for big name free agents over the last 2 offseasons.

  • Mission22

    Between Stroman’s angry tweets about management and Donaldson clearly not being impressed with Shatkins, this team sure is making a habit of alienating its star players. Throw in Tulo’s bone spurs and we have ourselves a gong show less than a week into Spring Training. Every day it’s a different negative story. What’s next? Looking forward to this nonsense dying down and actual games being played in Grapefruit League action.

      • lukewarmwater

        Sadly Jay fans will be seeing a lot of swing and misses from the least producing run ball club that hasn’t done much to rectify the problem . But heh what the heck we got 2 years of productivity out of Rogers in 2 decades, what more could we ask for Stoeten. You look good in those new knee pads.

    • Steve-O

      It takes a special kind of person to take the available information (i.e. “I’m extremely happy with what’s transpired throughout this time. Mark (Shapiro) and Ross (Atkins) have been very upfront with me throughout this entire process”) into “Donaldson clearly not being impressed with Shatkins”. Congratulations on your …achievement?

  • ThatDrunkGuy

    With the knowledge of it not being my money spent, I wouldn’t be opposed to giving Josh a 5/$125 deal. I’m not sure if that would get it done with him, or if my homer side is shining thru and that would be a big overpay. Seeing what JD got, I have no idea what number to throw out there.

    Either way, I’m hoping to have to dive out of the way of a few homers from him when I go up in June, and I wouldn’t be upset to have to keep doing it for many summers to come.

    • Hentgen

      At $8 million/WAR, JD would need to average a little over 5 WAR over the length of his deal. Is that reasonable? Could be, supposing he stays healthy the first couple of years of the deal and he doesn’t fall off a cliff like Bats.

  • dolsh

    4/80 was the number I suspected they had in mind too (partially snarkily)…but his ’18 contract has me wondering if it could actually be 4/100.

    I’d be shocked if JD’s team isn’t thinking 30M AAV and 5 or 6 years, and touting Beltre comparisons. That would be smart. I know he’s awesome, but we’re also in the middle of the third baseman golden age. How many teams will be able to pay, and don’t already have a good/great option at the hot corner? I’m assuming we’ll find out whether St Louis wants him more than Toronto. Maybe the Phillies? I doubt he’s going to have a huge market.

    • Atlanta. Maybe the Yankees. Maybe Texas (Beltre is FA). Maybe the Padres. Maybe the White Sox. Maybe the Tigers. Theoretically the Brewers maybe.

      Not exactly a list of marquee teams looking to spend — especially since the Yankees will probably get Machado and be out of the running (I know he’s a shortstop now, but still, I don’t see them going after both. Also: puking at the thought.)

          • Oakville Jays

            I don’t think most fans are happy that Shapiro signed Morales instead of Encarnacion. The Shapirologists are now advocating dumping Morales after 1 year. It’s sad. Losing Donaldson is the end of the Jays juggernaut offense of 2015 & 2016.

          • GrumblePup

            Oakville, the only thing you have going for you is that you didn’t call them “Shatkins”.

            Of course people were upset that Morales got signed instead of Encarnacion. Especially since EE didn’t get a better deal with Cleveland than he would have with the Jays.

            BUT I’m confused as to what you mean by calling people “Shapirologists”. Are Shapirologists people who blindly follow Shapiro? Or are they people who are completely against Shapiro? Because either way, fuck off. Morales was not a great as he could have been, he’s not as bad as people say he is. Settle down.

  • Chappy

    There is way to much uncertainty for there to make much sense signing him unless it was a team friendly contract, which isn’t going to happen. Like it or not, the best thing for both parties is to wait. Jays need to see if they are in a position to compete by the break and, if not, they need to cash in on Donaldson for prospects as the Yankees are on the cusp of a long term winning streak for many years to come. The Jays are correctly positioning themselves to hold onto the likes of Stroman, Sanchez, Travis and maybe Osuna and combining them with the arrivals of players in the Guerrero, Bichette, Pearson, etc. Having one or two more strong prospects to add to that group is key, probably more so than a couple great years followed by some mediocre years from Donaldson. He, like the rest of the 30 year olds are just not worth long term contracts for 25+million a year. The economics just don’t work out for the team. We already have Tulo to demonstrate this and Martin is not far behind in this regard. I 100% support managements position on this, be smart with the $, build the team methodically with the goal of a sustainable winning formula. I am way over the high rolling Anthopolous years, gambling on big contracts is rarely the way to go anymore. The Astros and Royals are great examples of this, all that money and LA still has won zero world series, my guess is they never will.

    • Not a guarantee he brings back a great prospect — look at Martinez only bringing back Lugo, for example. Should do better than that, if that’s what it comes to, but I wouldn’t bank on too much. And “mediocre” is a bit much. Also Martin’s deal is totally fine. Also, the economics on those kinds of deals don’t have to be a problem if you do it right, and this ownership should be able to handle it just fine. But yes, there’s so much uncertainty it’s hard to see how they’d actually line up.

    • Oakville Jays

      I doubt Rogers would tolerate an Astros style 3 year 100 loss season. The loss of broadcast revenue would offset the payroll savings. It would also take time to rebuild ticket sales. It took Rogers 14 years to realize how valuable the team can be with a full stadium & AL leading attendance.

        • Oakville Jays

          It’s bizarre how Rogers management thinks. For years, they wanted fans to show up & they promised they would increase payroll to get better players. AA took a gamble in 2013 7 2015. He created a juggernaut in 2015 that took the team to within 2 wins of a World Series Appearance. Revenues skyrocketed & the team’s franchise value exploded. Shapiro’s “raise the floor” strategy should help the team avoid 75 win seasons, but without the excitement of an 85-90 projected win season, they are losing advanced ticket sales. I don’t see how the team gets 2.5M pre sold tickets by opening day. If the Jays get off to a slow start, the Rogers Centre will be drawing 20-25K till late May. The Raptors & Leafs could have long playoff runs which will shift attention away from the Jays.

          • Kris

            FYI Fansgraph projections for the Jays are now at 87 wins on the season. And that is with a 1.7 WAR for Sanchez and 1.9 for Estrada projection. So you be happy then because you have “excitement of an 85-90 projected win season”

        • Oakville Jays

          If the Jays go back to the “good old days” of JP Riccardi’s 80 win teams, they will lose more revenue than any payroll savings they get from not bringing back Josh Donaldson.

  • Rob Ray

    I started to believe the end was in sight for Josh when they acquired Solarte. Solarte can play third and could be a place holder once Josh leaves as they wait for Vlad Jr, to arrive. Josh certainly takes a big risk in free agency next year if teams continue the frugal approach they’ve had this winter.

  • AD

    Can the jays do something with josh like the raps did with kyle lowry? Less years at a really high AAV? Raps didnt want to pay kyle max money for his age 36-37 seasons.

  • oldguy

    I think giving a three year extension on top of his new one year contract would be the practical way to go. 3 yrs. at 30 per year, plus his 23 for this year would cost the club 113 mil. Maybe an option at 20 would make it a little easier to swallow. You have to know when to fold em, and know when to walk away!

  • Terry Mesmer

    The steroid era is over(ish). Players age now. Donaldson will be 33 in 2019 and people want to give him five years? Albert Pujols is a three-time MVP and will be a first-ballot HOFer. In the past five seasons, age 33-37, he produced just 8.1 bWAR total and was paid $114 million. For perspective, Pujols had seven consecutive seasons, each with a WAR higher than 8.1!
    A-Rod, age 33-37, had 14.7 WAR, was caught juicing! and still missed 284 games despite the illicit help (his suspension was enforced the next year).
    Beltre has done well. Cano too…but he’s only played ages 33-34.
    Wait until the end of the year and see what’s left of Donaldson. But you can’t guarantee him more than three years. It would be idiocy.

  • Dexxter

    I’m probably in the minority here but i’d pay the man.

    Completely understand the idea of spending responsibly…. but also think a few other factors come into play here. Especially if looking at JD Martinez as a comparison.

    Age is a factor no doubt… but Donaldson’s defense does have value… And likely will for a while even if he shifts to 1B. Also, Martinez’s opt outs also have value which bring down the overall contract terms.

    Plus I’m still of the kind that the leagues only Canadian team may have to overpay a bit to keep or attract players. Likely less so when retaining players… but I don’t think it’s a non issue. Jays are on Basically every no trade clause in MLB for a reason. Completely ridiculous from my perspective… but nonetheless an issue for the GMs to deal with. Even Martin a Canadian admitted it was the Jays going to that 5th year that got things done.

    Throw out Donaldson’s current one year deal. Give him $30 mill now ($7mill increase because realistically in this sort of transition year… why not use this cash to help lock up Donaldson) then front load the rest. $30M, $30M, $20M, $20M, $15M, $12M. $3m buyout on a 7th year $10M option… or something like that.

    Effectively $137M over 6 years. That’s a chunk of change Donaldson would have a hard time turning down. And if Vlad and Bo both pan out Donaldsons deal declines to $15M annually just as they hit arbitration. Pays him more while they are playing for the league minimum.

    • sons

      Front loading costs more to the team. It’s not really a benefit that it is low in later years.

      But I agree that it could be used with n opt-out to make a deal work. Give him 5/125M including this year. But with an opt-out after 2 years at 30M per. So he gets the bump this year to 30M like you said, plus 30M next year and he doesn’t go up directly against Harper, Machado etc. Then he has 3 years left and 65M or can opt-out if he thinks he can do better.

  • ErnieWhitt

    I have to say – at the time when the Jays acquired Donaldson, my suspicion was that they would let him ride out his arb years benefiting from all of the surplus value, and to let some other team pay for past performance in his age 33 season. From a purely emotional standpoint I want Donaldson to play out his career in Toronto, but part of what made that trade so insane was that the Jays were landing a perennial MVP candidate who would be controllable until his mid 30s, allowing the Jays to avoid paying free agent dollars. I feel like this was always the plan, stretching back to the previous regime.

  • CM

    Not surprising news. No comment on what the deal should be but someone should advise Rogers and jay Mgt they don’t give any award for highest supply’s value generated. World Series winner isnt determined by team with most wins per $ spent. I would sign josh you can always trade him down the road you’ll do better than the 2nd round comp pick. Esp if you package him with something to get really creative

    • Barry

      This comment really does not apply to the team that had the fifth highest payroll in MLB in 2017. (Currently ninth in 2018 — it remains to be seen whether they go higher or lower on the list, but either way, being in the upper third of payrolls negates the “wins-per-$” criticism.)

      • sons

        Look at where they are for 2019, 2020 and 2021. Bottom third of the league. Now that’s great, don’t get me wrong. But like take out Tulo, Martin and Donaldson (that Alex brought in and who all will be gone well before Pujols for example) and we have nothing.

        • GrumblePup

          umm… what?

          You’re projecting that they Jays have a low payroll in 2019,2020 and 2021. But you’re completely ignoring the fact that the Jays might make some moves over the course of the next couple years?

          I’m not saying that I know what the Jays are going to do. But complaining about payroll placement years before they actually get there is completely insane. You do realize that right?

          • Barry

            Yeah, this is why I’m guessing his post was a joke, though it’s tough to tell. But I have trouble believing someone would type that, not knowing it was ridiculous.

  • El Cabeza

    It’s kind of funny how players are so confident they won’t decline with age like almost everyone else that they try their damndest to sign for as many years as possible. If you were really certain you’d be the same player in 5 years, then sign a 3 year contract for a much higher AAV, then sign another 2 or 3 year deal at possibly a higher AAV (if you’re so good and salaries have risen in the aggregate over that initial 3 year deal). Bautista took that chance with a 1 year deal though and look how that worked for him.

    That being said, Tulo and Martin’s huge contracts are off the books after 3 years and if all goes as planned there will be a great core of entry deal/arbitration players on the roster. There should be lots of money to overpay an aging Josh Donaldson in years 4 and 5 of an extension. Give him the 5 year deal. Front load it as much as possible and you’ve got a stud in the lineup to hit with the young studs that will be studding it up in 2019-21. At the same time try to extend Stroman, Sanchez, Osuna sooner than later to buy their first couple FA eligible years to help ensure there’s some arms to match those potent young bats (and JD).

    That however, is a pipe-dream. He’s gone. If they’re in contention at the end of July the Jays will end up with a compensatory pick. If they’re out of it, they’ll get a mediocre batch of prospects.

  • MetalManic

    Time waits for noone
    Not even for heroes
    Life will have its way and we have to follow
    Someone said it might be true what they say
    Someone said I will be able to freeze the frame of what you are today

    -Dan Swano