Perhaps the most significant trade that took place on the day of the August postseason eligibility trade deadline was the one that sent Josh Donaldson to the Indians. The former AL MVP has endured an injury-plagued season owing to his shoulder and calf, but made it back to the field on a rehab assignment just in time to be put through trade waivers and ultimately sent to Cleveland in exchange for salary relief and a player to be named later.
At the beginning of the 2018 season, it would have seemed unfathomable that the Jays would get so little value as a result of Donaldson’s departure. Few expected them to seriously contend amidst a division that features the Red Sox and Yankees, but if they had been competitive enough to keep Donaldson through season’s end, most would have bet heavily on an outcome in which he’d receive and reject a qualifying offer. That would have netted the Jays a first-round pick had he signed for $50MM or more elsewhere, a scenario that the majority of baseball enthusiasts also would have put money on. And certainly if you’d have told a pundit back in March that Toronto would fall out of competition by late July, they’d have been wondering which team gave up a top prospect in order to acquire him ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline.
The actual outcome was an awful bout of bad fortune for both Donaldson and the Jays, of course. He only stayed on the field enough to accrue 159 plate appearances, and his performance was inconsistent with his track record. Most readers of MLBTR will by now recognize .234/.333/.423 as Donaldson’s batting line so far in 2018, a far cry from the numbers he’d previously put up over the course of his tenure in Canada.
In no small part due to those factors, the receipt of a qualifying offer that once seemed a foregone conclusion for the 33-year-old became a decision clouded with doubt across the industry. The club certainly faced serious risk had they kept the slugger. A full return to form would have made it worth issuing him a one-year contract approaching $20MM, but a poor or even average performance would have forced the Blue Jays with a difficult choice: let their star third baseman walk for nothing or make him an exorbitant offer and thereby risk both a payroll albatross and 2019 roster crunch involving Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Evidently, the Jays decided that the Tribe’s offer to pay $1.3MM of his remaining salary and fork over a young player presented a better alternative to taking such a risk. Reportedly, they’ll receive right-hander Julian Merryweather, who ranked as the club’s 15th-best prospect headed into the season prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery. One could certainly argue that Merryweather holds more upside and less risk than a late-first-round pick in next year’s draft, but his recent injury would make that a tough sell.
For that reason, some fans and reporters have chided the Jays for “giving Donaldson away”. That’s not literally the case, as anyone who wanted the three-time All-Star could have simply claimed him on waivers; all 29 rival teams opted to pass on that front). Still, one could look at the scenario as Toronto paying the Indians over $2MM to take Donaldson off their hands (though they’d have to assume that Merryweather has no value).
On the other hand, it’s perhaps a positive thing that the Jays were able to get Donaldson back on the field in time to reap any value at all from him. Though he’s absolutely raked during his rehab assignment in Cleveland, Toronto could have very easily watched Donaldson re-injure himself and thus been criticized by some fans for keeping him through September.
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