November 28th will forever be a pseudo holiday for Blue Jays fans.
It was on that day in 2014 that the Blue Jays, then mired in a playoff drought that stretched over 20 years, made their biggest move of the decade by trading a bunch of prospects and fan favourite Brett Lawrie to the Oakland Athletics for third baseman Josh Donaldson. At that point, Donaldson was playing in a different time zone wasn’t really a household name in Canada, but with two top ten MVP finishes in his previous two years, it was only a matter of time.
The Blue Jays often struggled to be relevant in a division that had both the Red Sox and Yankees. They never got primetime games or any of the national spotlight south of the border because not only could they not win games, they lacked personality outside of slugger Jose Bautista. Donaldson marched to the beat of his own drum, which is perfectly described by a scene from spring where he brought out his own boombox to blast Lil Uzi Vert AT TEN ON A TUESDAY MORNING, much to the chagrin of John Gibbons. The boombox was soon confiscated.
DJ Josh Donaldson pic.twitter.com/86aPHBVP19
— Eddie Matz (@ESPNeddiematz) March 6, 2018
I’ll give you ten seconds to Google Lil Uzi Vert.
Almost immediately upon his arrival in Toronto, Blue Jays fans learned that with Josh Donaldson, you had a MVP caliber baseball player with the personality of a professional wrestler. Everything the man known as the Bringer of Rain did seemed like it was at 100 miles an hour. We’ll remember that 2015 season because of a whole collection of magical moments.
Let’s walk down memory lane. He did it all: from walk off homers, to being near brawls, or diving into the crowd to preserve a perfect game bid. Hell, during the Blue Jays AL East crown celebration, he even did a pretty good Stone Cold Steve Austin impression. And of course, there was the proverbial middle finger in Game 3 of the 2016 American League Divisional Series, a mad dash from Donaldson to eliminate the Texas Rangers for the second year in a row.
When something noteworthy happened in a Jays game that made highlights the next day, it wouldn’t be surprising to see number 20 right in the thick of it.
He helped the franchise go from an afterthought to one that people wouldn’t stop talking about, even when it wasn’t all good. It seemed like he embraced the team’s newfound bad boy persona back in 2015 when people were offended by them bashing home runs and enjoying it. I’m not going to reduce him to being Jose Bautista’s sidekick, but on the field, we finally found somebody with as much attitude and flair for the dramatic. He even told a bench coach on the Los Angeles Angels something that I won’t repeat here. Did it have anything to do with his play on the field? No. Was it hilarious? You bet.
In an era that was over too soon, it seemed like everybody in the baseball world had an opinion about the Toronto Blue Jays. They finally mustered up enough wins and relevance to get airtime outside of the Canadian sports bubble thanks in large part to Donaldson.
And with all the personality, sass, and drama that he had, he was also damn good at his job. Going into the 2018 season, he had a WAR of 35.3 since he broke into the Major Leagues for good in 2012. The only player to have a better WAR in that span? Mike Trout.
That’s right, in the past six seasons, Donaldson has been one of the best in the game on both sides of the ball. And it’s no surprise that even well after he’s out of the game, Blue Jays fans will associate Josh Donaldson with winning baseball, even if they didn’t get to go all the way in 2015 and 2016.
At least we’ll have he memories of him being part of the most dangerous group of hitters in Blue Jays history since WAMCO did their thing back in 1993.
His final numbers as a Toronto Blue Jay: .281/.383/.548 in 462 games with 116 home runs. He made excellence look easy, and I’m certain fans will one day look back on the four years he spent here and realize that we took his consistent elite play for granted.
You don’t come across players like Josh Donaldson every day, and when the chance to get one presents itself, you surely don’t pay the price the Blue Jays did for him.
As of right now, the only thing stopping that trade from being the runaway worst one in Athletics franchise history is the possible emergence of Franklin Barreto. The 22-year-old second baseman is slashing .259/.357/.514 for the Athletics Triple-A affiliate and ranked 43rd on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects at the beginning of this season.
After that, Kendall Graveman, who’s recovering from July Tommy John surgery, has been a serviceable starter with a 4.38 ERA over 441 innings pitched, but will be 29 when he returns. Lawrie lost his job to Jed Lowrie sometime during the 2015 season, was shipped out to the White Sox at the end of the year, and hasn’t been in baseball since 2016, for some unknown reason. Sean Nolin made six starts for the A’s in 2015 and hasn’t made it back to the league since after undergoing a Tommy John surgery of his own that year. He pitched for the Rockies Double-A affiliate in 2018.
The ending to Donaldson’s Blue Jays story was unfair to everybody involved. It was a season decimated by both a dead arm and calf muscle that limited him to only 36 games and for the first time in four seasons, he looked human. It was uncomfortable to watch the drama play out as you knew he wasn’t going to get back in before both the trade deadlines, and just like that, he was gone on Friday night.
He went from being just the second Blue Jay in league history to win the Most Valuable Player award to being traded for a player to be named later. Maybe he heals quick and finds his old form in Cleveland before the year ends. Maybe the re-emergence of the Bringer of Rain in Ohio ensures that player turns out to be somebody that starts his own story in Toronto, but everybody – the fans, the team, the front office, and Donaldson himself – deserved better than this messy and anticlimactic departure for one of the greatest players to pull on the jersey since the team went back to back in 1992 and 1993.