The Rangers are making “an aggressive push” to strike an early deal with free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (on Twitter). Donaldson still hasn’t even had to give the Braves a formal decision on his $17.8MM qualifying offer — though he’ll surely reject it by tomorrow’s deadline. A deal of this significance in mid-November is of the utmost rarity in today’s free-agent climate. However, it’s worth pointing out that Donaldson signed his one-year deal with the Braves in late November last year, so there’s some precedent for him preferring a rather short stay on the open market.
Third base is a clear area of need for the Rangers, as young Nick Solak is likely the top option at the hot corner as things are currently constructed in Arlington. Texas certainly has the funds to reel in a free agent of Donaldson’s caliber after scaling back on payroll last winter; the Rangers have previously seen their payroll climb as high as $165MM on Opening Day 2017, but they currently project to check in around $115MM. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd pointed out in previewing the Rangers’ offseason, a match between Donaldson and Texas seems perfectly plausible and would bear some similarity to the Rangers’ run with Adrian Beltre in his mid- to late-30s.
As we detailed at MLBTR this week, signing Donaldson on the heels of a qualifying offer would cost the Rangers their second-highest draft selection next summer as well as $500K of their 2020-21 international signing bonus. Donaldson, who hit .259/.371/.521 with 37 home runs and plus defense at third base with the Braves in 2019, ranked fifth on MLBTR’s list of the offseason’s Top 50 free agents (where we predicted a three-year, $75MM deal with Texas).
The Rangers flirted with Wild Card contention in 2019 before fading late in the season and have given every indication to this point that they plan to act aggressively in advance of their move into a new stadium in 2020. General manager and president of baseball operations Jon Daniels plainly stated this week that he intended to look into top-tier free agents, so an earnest pursuit of Donaldson could be the first of many such free-agent endeavors for Texas over the next several months.
Donaldson has already drawn interest from the Dodgers, Phillies, Nationals (who likely view him as a fallback to Anthony Rendon) and Braves in the early stages of free agency. The Braves, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link), have been allowing Donaldson to shop around with other clubs before engaging in their own discussion of a multi-year pact.