Josh Donaldson will make his highly anticipated return to game action on Tuesday when he begins a rehab assignment with Dunedin. That’s significant because it allows his parent club, the rebuilding Toronto Blue Jays, the chance to place the former American League MVP on revocable trade waivers.
It’s coming down to the wire in every sense of the phrase. Players placed on August waivers need 48 hours to clear before a trade can be finalized. Of course, it’s still complicated for both parties. The Blue Jays would either need to work out a deal with the team that claims Donaldson or pull him back. It seems unlikely a club outside of the postseason race would want a player that hasn’t appeared in a major-league game since May 28. Barring something unforeseen, that can be ruled out.
For contending clubs interested in Donaldson, they’ll need to act quickly. The veteran is postseason eligible as long as he’s moved ahead of September, so orchestrating a trade within the next few days seems appropriate. Any deal also comes with tremendous risk. The front office that banks on Donaldson will be hoping he’s 100 percent healed from a calf injury that has kept him out for just under three months. It’s also worth remembering Donaldson could barely throw the baseball at the start of the season.
Unless Donaldson suffers another setback in his rehab, which would be devastating for both the player and the team, his days in Toronto appear to be coming to an end. It’s been a wild ride, to be sure, and his contributions will be acknowledged another time. If he is traded ahead of, or on Friday, what team represents the best fit for the free-agent-to-be? Let’s take a look.
New York Yankees
Current record: 83–47
Playoff probability: 99.9 percent
The Blue Jays aren’t scared of trading within the division. Steve Pearce was shipped off to Boston, followed by the trade that sent J.A. Happ to these Yankees. Both players have enjoyed success with their new teams.
A healthy Donaldson in pinstripes could — key word here — push the Yankees atop the AL East division. The club currently sits six games back of the dominant Red Sox. Coincidentally, they have six games remaining against their rivals — three of which will be played at home. What could stop a Donaldson trade from happening is the spectacular play of rookie third baseman Miguel Andujar. Of course, they can always make room for a former MVP.
Didi Gregorius is expected back from the disabled list relatively soon, and if the Yankees want to keep Andujar at the hot corner and still trade for Donaldson, they can play Giancarlo Stanton more in right field and use Donaldson at DH. The currently injured Aaron Judge has yet to swing a bat as he remains sidelined with a fractured wrist, and with fill-in right fielder Neil Walker struggling to produce this year, Donaldson would slot in nicely for the stretch run.
Current record: 73–57
Playoff probability: 67.4 percent
This would be a fascinating reunion between Donaldson and former Blue Jays executive Alex Anthopoulos. The Braves are a fun team loaded with young talent and hold a three-and-a-half game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. They’re set at every position but could use an upgrade at third base, currently manned by Johan Camargo.
This trade would come down to a few things. Similar to Andujar and the Yankees, the 24-year-old Camargo has been quite impressive this season. Among qualified third baseman, he’s accrued 2.3 WAR and 112 wRC+; good for top-15 league placement. Underlying metrics point to a bit of good luck, however. Camargo has produced these numbers with a .311 BABIP and a lower xwOBA (.320) than his current wOBA (.340). In a vacuum, that shouldn’t result in much regression moving forward, but it’s notable, nonetheless.
Unlike any AL team that gets Donaldson, the Braves would need to use him exclusively at the hot corner. If Anthopoulos — the man behind the 2014 blockbuster that brought Donaldson to Toronto from Oakland — believes this to be an upgrade, don’t rule out a trade of this nature, which would undoubtedly make the enticing Braves the team to beat in their division.
Current record: 74–56
Playoff probability: 99.9 percent
The Indians have no competition in the joke that is the AL Central. That is precisely why they can afford to take a risk on Donaldson, use September to get him back up to speed, and utilize his skill set in the postseason.
Most teams that trade for Donaldson will be doing so in hopes of getting a player that will aid their pursuit to a division title or wild-card berth. The Indians have the division all but locked up, so why not shoot for the fences. They reportedly kicked tires on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper — two stars headed for free agency. Donaldson, then, could start at third base for Cleveland, shifting AL MVP candidate Jose Ramirez to second.
Jason Kipnis, who hasn’t returned to his 2016 form, is familiar with the outfield having started 11 games in centre (five in the postseason) at the conclusion of 2017. If the Indians, a club ravaged with injuries at the position, prefer to keep Kipnis in the lineup over the speedy, but offensively-destitute Greg Allen, they could, once again, move him back there.
Cleveland will face one of Houston or Oakland in the ALDS. A lineup of Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, Ramirez, and Donaldson, sure would look nice in an effort to help get them back to a World Series.
St. Louis Cardinals
Current record: 73–58
Playoff probability: 62.4 percent
For a team that traded Tommy Pham and once looked to be in severe turmoil, the Cardinals’ rebound into contention has been impressive. One key factor has been their effective starting rotation followed by the brilliance that is Matt Carpenter.
Entering play on Tuesday, the Cardinals are four-and-a-half games back of the surging, and, by all accounts, superior Chicago Cubs, but currently sit first in a wildly crowded wild-card race. The Cardinals have games remaining against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Braves, and Cubs, so it’s going to be an exciting September.
The Cards were heavily linked to Donaldson in the winter. Whether or not there’s still interest remains to be seen, but there appears to be a fit — at least on paper. Jedd Gyorko is remarkably underrated at the plate and holds his own defensively at third base. Kolten Wong* checks out as the club’s best defensive infielder who happens to be enjoying a really good second half, improving his wRC+ to 94 this season. If the Cardinals want to get creative, they could trade for Donaldson to play third base and shift Gyorko to second to rotate with Wong. That would allow Carpenter to stick at first base or play third when Donaldson needs a day off.
*Wong was placed on the 10-day disabled list shortly after this was written, making the possibility of a Donaldson trade all that more intriguing
Current record: 72–58
Playoff probability: 54.5
The Diamondbacks have the lowest playoff odds of all current first-place teams. Projection wise, it’s probably safe to peg Arizona ahead of Colorado and even Milwaukee, but moving forward, they’ll be in tough against the elite Dodgers, the surging Cardinals, the division-leading Braves, and the improved Phillies.
Regular third baseman Jake Lamb is out for the year. The D-Backs upgraded by acquiring Eduardo Escobar who’s filled in admirably at the position, but to date, fellow infielders Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte have been below-average offensively. Much like what the Cubs did in trading for Daniel Murphy — who missed most of the first half rehabbing from offseason knee surgery — the Diamondbacks should view Donaldson as a worthwhile addition and similar to J.D. Martinez, who they acquired last July, but lost in free agency.
Arizona hitters currently rank 20th in wRC+ (93) and wOBA (.312), proof that, outside of Paul Goldschmidt, David Peralta, and A.J. Pollock, this group needs some help. Donaldson could be that guy. In the midst of a career year, Escobar is more than familiar playing shortstop and deserves to play everyday, meaning Donaldson’s arrival would cost one of Ahmed or Marte’s job. With a deep and reliable starting rotation, a healthy Donaldson has the looks to be a difference maker for Arizona.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs