Weeks of bidding has reportedly driven the price tag for Josh Donaldson into the nine-figure range over a four-year term, with at least three clubs said to be sitting at that lofty price point. The end game may now be upon us.
The star third baseman has given teams what amounts to a firm and final asking price, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link). Donaldson is “simply waiting for one of the clubs to hit his number” — around $110MM — per the report.
It seems, then, that the Braves, Nationals, Twins, Rangers, Dodgers, and any other lurkers need only place a single phone call to Donaldson’s reps to get the paperwork started. With the first three of those clubs reportedly already close to Donaldson’s asking price, it doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to bridge the gap. On the other hand, it may be that these teams feel they’ve already moved well out of their comfort zone for a 34-year-old player with a not-so-distant injury history, however talented he may be.
We have seen this sort of bidding situation emerge before. Sometimes, the player ends up picking from among multiple, roughly equivalent offers, as reportedly occurred a few years back with Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. In other cases, a team leaps up to meet the asking price, as then-Blue Jays and now-Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos did to land Russell Martin — a situation he discussed last year.
It’s interesting now to see Anthopoulos weighing another tough call on an older free agent. He has twice acquired Donaldson, first via trade in Toronto and then through free agency in Atlanta, and has twice been rewarded for doing so. But while Anthopoulos made no shortage of big-money strikes during his time with the Jays, he has run quite a tight ship with the Braves. Most teams pressing to win end up going out on a limb at some point or another. No doubt Anthopoulos is presently weighing whether to do so with Donaldson or take on somewhat different risks by seeking an alternative path to the quality bat he wishes to acquire.
The calculus is much the same for the other teams involved. For the Nationals, the luxury tax line is fast approaching after a series of other moves. Adding Donaldson would probably mean going past it, though that seems to be a palatable outcome after dipping under the bar last year and going on to snag a World Series win. The Twins have ample flexibility after piecing together a cost-conscious series of rotation moves. It’s arguable that the Minnesota organization is most in need of a boost and best positioned to take on the long-term financial risks. But there are probably other ways the team could go to improve as well.
It could be that we’re seeing a bit of a staring contest here. Even if every organization knows that it controls its own destiny with regard to Donaldson — meet his ask and he’s yours — they’d each rather get him for less. There are some exceptionally talented alternatives in Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado, but they’ll each require a sacrifice of talent and it’s far from clear how appealing the trade terms will be in both cases. Other possibilities, such as trading for Kyle Seager or signing Todd Frazier, rate as backup plans in comparison to the addition of Donaldson or one of his talent-level peers.