JULY 4: While the Mets are expected to pursue upgrades in advance of the deadline, a Donaldson trade is not under consideration at this time, hears Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link). Martino, however, reiterates that the Mets continue to contemplate a potential Donaldson acquisition.
JULY 2: The Mets are targeting third base upgrades as the deadline approaches, and while many of their fans are likely hoping Kris Bryant becomes available, they’re understandably exploring every avenue. SNY’s Andy Martino writes today that the Mets have approached the Twins and “engaged in very preliminary talks” regarding Josh Donaldson.
As always, it’s worth noting that teams inquire on a wide variety of targets every year at the trade deadline and in the offseason, but preliminary talks don’t necessarily portend serious negotiations. Donaldson is in the second season of a four-year, $92MM contract signed in the 2019-20 offseason, so he’d make for an expensive acquisition for the Mets or any other club. As Martino points out, the Donaldson contract would push the Mets beyond the luxury-tax barrier, though owner Steve Cohen hasn’t been shy about his willingness to cross that threshold.
Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez currently has the Mets at about $13.5MM shy of the $210MM luxury barrier. Donaldson’s $23MM annual value — the luxury tax is based on contracts’ average annual value — would bring the Mets about $9.5MM north of the tax line. However, as a first-time offender, their penalty would be rather minimal: a 20-percent tax on the first $20MM by which they exceed the barrier, a 32 percent tax on the next $20MM and a 62.5 percent tax on anything thereafter. (Obviously, at this point in the season, it’s overwhelmingly unlikely that the Mets would take on so much salary that they’d cross the barrier by $40MM or more.)
The penalty on Donaldson alone would, in theory, be about $1.9MM. That’s not prohibitive in and of itself, necessarily, and even if the Mets were to make subsequent additions and cross the tax line by, say, $20MM, they’d still only be paying $4MM in penalties. The greater concern could be that under the current system, penalties increase in the second and third consecutive seasons of crossing the tax line. Taking on Donaldson — or any other players who bring them north of the line, Bryant included — would set the Mets up for stiffer penalties in 2022 and perhaps in 2023. Of course, that assumes the current luxury-tax system will remain in place with the next collective bargaining agreement, and with the current CBA set to expire Dec. 1, we can’t know that to be the case.
Turning to the player himself, Donaldson has been somewhat of a lightning rod in recent weeks (and at various other points in his career) for his outspokenness about pitchers’ usage of foreign substances. The slugger called out Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and pointed to his spin-rate drops following the league’s implementation of umpire checks, and he drew the ire of the White Sox and their fanbase for shouting “It’s not sticky anymore!” after belting a home run against Lucas Giolito this week.
Being outspoken is nothing new for Donaldson, of course, nor is the productive stretch in which he currently finds himself. The 35-year-old went down with a hamstring injury in the first game of the season for the Twins, but he’s been healthy since and has been on a tear at the plate for the past month. Donaldson is hitting .250/.345/.486 with 13 home runs overall, but he’s been on absolute fire since Memorial Day weekend, slashing .291/.383/.646 with eight homers and four doubles in his past 94 plate appearances. From a defensive standpoint, he’s not posting the elite marks that he has in recent years, but he’s been about average at the hot corner in the estimation of most metrics (-1 Defensive Runs Saved, -1 Ultimate Zone Rating, +1 Outs Above Average).
Donaldson’s contract pays him $21MM in 2021, 2022 and 2023, and he’s also owed at least the $8MM buyout of a $16MM club option for the 2024 campaign. We’re at the halfway point of the 186-game regular season today, so as of this moment, Donaldson is owed $10.5MM more on this year’s salary. Notably, his contract does include limited no-trade protection, though it’s not yet clear whether the Mets are on that list.
For the Mets, third base has been an issue all season long, due largely to injuries. J.D. Davis opened the year as the top option at the hot corner, and he posted a mammoth .390/.479/.610 slash in 48 plate appearances through his first 14 games. However, Davis is a sub-par defensive option there and drew some criticism for some key miscues (three errors in 94 innings) before going down to a hand/finger injury from which he’s yet to return. Jonathan Villar, Luis Guillorme, Brandon Drury, Jose Peraza, Jeff McNeil and even backup catcher Tomas Nido (for two innings) have all been part of the Mets’ third base carousel this season.
Donaldson would, of course, help to stabilize that roller coaster — provided he can remain healthy. He’s been on the injured list in three of the past four seasons, owing primarily to calf injuries. He did stay healthy for the duration of the 2019 season with the Braves, however, and Donaldson’s early trip to the injured list in 2021 wound up lasting just 11 days.
It’s been a miserable season for the Twins, who opened the year as expected contenders but instead find themselves at 33-46 — fresh off a sweep at the hands of the AL Central-leading White Sox. With the Twins now 14.5 games back from the division lead and 13 games out of an American League Wild Card spot, they look increasingly likely to be deadline sellers. Donaldson’s contract probably makes him too costly for most teams to consider, but the deep-pocketed Mets are at least a plausible suitor in a potential swap.