Josh Donaldson’s difficult season and recent trade have prompted plenty of looks in the rearview mirror to imagine what might have been. Now with the Indians for the tail end of an injury-plagued year, the veteran third bagger could instead have inked a long-term deal to stay in Toronto or been shipped elsewhere.
Multiple organizations reputedly sought to acquire Donaldson from the Blue Jays before the start of the season. Reports at the time pegged the Cardinals as a major pursuer, and Bob Nightengale of USA Today now reports on Twitter that the club was indeed serious about landing Donaldson. While he had only one year of contract control remaining, and a hefty $23MM salary, the St. Louis organization was evidently not shy about giving up significant talent to make a deal.
Indeed, per the report, the Cards offered up a two-player package that included young righty Jack Flaherty — the same hurler who might well be cruising to a National League Rookie-of-the-Year award were it not for the brilliance of two historic young hitters. Flaherty’s ongoing ability to suppress base hits — he’s allowing only a .248 BABIP — may reasonably be questioned. But his 132 1/3-inning showing (to this point) has been amply impressive even if it comes with some batted-ball fortune.
Unquestionably, the Jays would take a do-over on their decision not to accept that offer. But that’s based as much or more on the ensuing injuries to Donaldson as it is Flahrty’s emergence. And if we’re going to consider what-if’s, there’s another entire scenario that also could have occurred. In this case, the outcomes favor the Toronto ballclub.
It has long been known that the Blue Jays explored the possibility of an extension with Donaldson in advance of the 2018 season. Details, though, have not only been slow to emerge, but have come with no small amount of controversy.
Today, Jon Heyman of Fancred fired the latest shot in an ongoing back-and-forth with Donaldson’s agents regarding pre-2018 extension talks with the Blue Jays. Heyman argues that “the Jays and the Donaldson camp knew exactly where they stood” in terms of contract price last spring, citing some of the player’s own comments to support his reporting. And, he insists, the Blue Jays made clear they’d be willing to pay something at or over the three-year, $75MM level to make a deal, if not a bit more.
In Heyman’s telling, the Donaldson camp found that level insufficient — which, as Heyman notes, would certainly have been a fair position to take given Donaldson’s outstanding level of play in the preceding campaigns. The recently stated position of agent Dan Lozano, however, is that “the team never extended an offer” and that “no years or dollars were ever specifically discussed.”
Those interested in the topic will want to read all the materials and reach their own conclusions. Broadly, the post mortem on the end of Donaldson’s tenure in Toronto is interesting for a variety of reasons. But it’s clearly also not a subject that necessarily needs to feature winners and losers. Certainly, there was no known reason to think that Donaldson was headed for such a calamitous season — either for the Blue Jays or the player’s reps. Historians may debate the facts, but they won’t likely dispute that the player was warranted in seeking a massive payday and that the club was justified in demanding a big return via trade.
In any event, for the Indians the focus now is solely on what Donaldson can do on the field. He broke through with a home run today, a promising sign for the club as it seeks to get him up to full speed in advance of the postseason. When the season ends, the veteran will be able to choose his next uniform for himself.