Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson hasn’t yet decided if he’ll continue his playing career beyond the current campaign. “I don’t know,” Donaldson tells Brendan Kuty The Athletic. “It kind of just depends on how I feel going through this year and this season and all of that and talking to my family.”
Donaldson, 37, is in the final guaranteed season of the four-year deal he signed with the Twins going into 2020. That deal originally contained a club option for 2024, but it would become a mutual option if Donaldson were traded at any point. He was flipped to the Yankees going into 2022 so it in indeed now a $16MM mutual option, with a $6MM buyout if the club declines.
Once one of the best players in baseball, Donaldson was named the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 2015. Playing for the Blue Jays that year, he hit 41 home runs and produced an overall batting line of .297/.371/.568 for a wRC+ of 154. When combined with his strong defense at the hot corner, he was worth 8.7 wins above replacement on the year, according to the calculations of FanGraphs. That was once of five straight seasons that he tallied at least 5.0 fWAR, between the Athletics and the Jays from 2013 to 2017.
His performance has naturally become less consistently elite as he’s moved into his mid- and late-30s. In 2018, he spent much of the season on the injured list and only got into 52 games. Those injury struggles were ill-timed, as he was just about to hit the open market for the first time. He had to settle for a one-year deal with Atlanta, but had an excellent bounceback campaign. He launched 37 home runs and hit .259.379/.521 for a 131 wRC+ and 5.2 fWAR.
He was able to parlay that into the aforementioned four-year deal with the Twins, securing himself a $92MM guarantee. He missed about half of the shortened 2020 season due to a calf strain, but still generally played well that year and in the season after. Between those two campaigns, he hit 32 home runs in 163 games, producing a line of .243/.355/.474 and a 127 wRC+.
But his production has tailed off since the 2022 trade that saw him, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt flipped to the Yanks for Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela. He struck out in 27.1% of his plate appearances last year, his worst such rate since his brief debut back in 2010. His power was also down, as he hit just 15 home runs last year. His .222/.308/.374 line translated to a 97 wRC+. This year, a hamstring strain has limited him to just 17 games. He has six home runs in that brief time but is hitting just .151/.233/.491 for a wRC+ of 91. He can surely expect his .065 batting average on balls in play to improve, but his strikeout rate is up again to 28.3% so far this year.
Donaldson still seems plenty capable of holding his own defensively. He produced seven Defensive Runs Saved and six Outs Above Average last year. His numbers this year are hovering around league average in the very small sample of 107 1/3 innings.
There’s reason to believe he could still have something left in the tank and provide some value for a club. Even with some offensive struggles last year, he still was worth 1.6 fWAR thanks to his glovework. His bat hasn’t fully bounced back this year but he could find himself in a better position soon with a bit more batted ball luck, something he’s aware of. “I’ve hit a lot of balls hard,” he said. “Unfortunately, some of them haven’t fallen at the moment.”
The Yankees will be facing a net $10MM decision at season’s end, opting between the $16MM mutual option and $6MM buyout. Even if Donaldson finishes in a better spot than he’s currently in, it seems likely they will turn that down, given his inconsistency and the fact that he’ll turn 38 in December. The interest he receives from other clubs at that point will naturally depend on how his health and performance hold up over the next few months.
It seems like he will take some time to see how things play out over the next few months before making any kind of decision. “It would be, ‘What would be best?’” he said. “If I feel like I want to play still, and I feel like with my family situation that’s what I want to do. … But I haven’t put more thought into it.”