As the Toronto Blue Jays have reported to Dunedin, Florida for Spring Training, one of the biggest questions heading into this season is the status of starting 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson. He is entering his final year of arbitration before being eligible for free agency. Should they re-sign him to a long-term extension? Or should they just play it out for the final year and let him walk? The word on the street is that it all depends on the term of the deal and how many years. But we're talking about a big-time position player with a big bat. He has the ability very few in Major League Baseball have to hit for a high batting average along with high totals in Home Runs and RBI's, also his ability to field the ball at 3rd is a plus. Analytics experts would say this is the type of player you throw the big dollars at, but history has shown players in similar situations were never worth the money after the age of 35. A 4-year deal with an option for a 5th would seem logical, but anything more than that might be too risky of a proposition. There definitely are pros and cons to both, so it's a tough decision whether to keep it going with this player on your roster or just be happy with what he is giving you up until now. Below I give you 3 reasons why they should re-sign Donaldson to a long-term extension - and 3 reasons why they should not.
WHY THE BLUE JAYS SHOULD RE-SIGN JOSH DONALDSON:
- Franchise player - hitting and fielding
- No other player of his caliber on the current roster to replace him
- Very durable – no major injuries until last year
WHY THE BLUE JAYS SHOULD NOT RE-SIGN JOSH DONALDSON:
- Will be entering 2019 at age 33
- Top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a 3rd baseman
- Will eat up 15-20% of the team's payroll by himself
As you can see, the pros very much outweigh the cons. If the Blue Jays plan on competing on an annual basis without interruption as is the plan now, it only makes sense that they sign him to an extension and not ask questions. But he and the team both need to have a bounce-back year in order to make this decision a lot easier. Since making the postseason in 2015 and 2016, the team has upped to big-market status. They are 2nd in the American League in attendance getting roughly 40,000 fans per game and in turn have a $160 Million Dollar payroll, which is double of what it was just 5 years ago. A lot of those fans going through the turnstiles may just stop showing up if this player is not on the team knowing full well ownership can afford to make this type of commitment. They just need to take the risk and they know that. Maybe management just wants to see him get back healthy for a full season again before making any final decisions, or maybe their plan from the get-go is to have him as long as possible without a mega-bucks contract extension and do not really have much interest in making that long-term commitment. It could also depend largely in part on how well the team is doing, what kind of team would they realistically have around him, what direction they are going in after this season, and if the attendance continues to be where it is with a payroll that stays high enough to afford to take that risk. Win or lose only time will tell.
On the other hand, it is understandable that the team wants to avoid any contract that will cause any type of albatross going forward. After all, one of the best decisions Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins has made with this club was not re-signing franchise icon Jose Bautista. He wanted a contract extension 2 years ago, coming off a monstrous year which would now have been a complete disaster. At 33 years of age in a year from now, you would think a 5-year deal should be safe with Donaldson considering the consistency he has shown since being a late bloomer with the Oakland A's. Apparently, it is the term that is the issue, not the dollars between these two sides as we can all agree he is worth around $25M in today's market and both sides, no question. If he is looking for a 7 or an 8 year deal then forget it, that is too long. Add in the fact that their top prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a 3rd baseman and could be up on the big club sooner than later within the next 2 years, then it really makes no sense to lock up Donaldson for that long. You could always have the kid switch positions, but you also have to look at the rest of the team to spread out the money on your payroll.
In the end, the "Bringer of Rain" likes playing for the Blue Jays and they like him. Given his superstar status and his continued comments publicly about wanting to stay, plus the fact that the dollars aren't the issue, it should be a no-brainer that he gets re-signed. But at what term? That is a calculated decision Shapiro and Atkins have to make and should they come to terms, they will need to have that figured out before Donaldson hits the open market. If it gets that far, he is gone. If they fall out of the playoff race by the trade deadline, he will undoubtedly be dealt as a rental to a contender. If they do stay in the race and lose him at the end of the season, the Blue Jays got a lot out of a player, in 4 years, the previous regime in former General Manager Alex Anthopoulos did not give up very much to get him. After all, there was no further obligation to him beyond his 4 years of arbitration when they acquired him from Oakland, and 4 years means 4 years - and this is the 4th year. But little did they know he would become only the 2nd player in franchise history to win the American League MVP like he did in 2015. Given his skill set, he could be in the running to do it again, maybe even as soon as this 2018 season as the star slugger enters a contract year with this one chance in his career to cash in on that big pay-day. Without him, he will be extremely tough for the Blue Jays to replace.