The Atlanta Braves made a free agent splash, signing third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year at $23 million. The deal gives a playoff hungry Braves a significant upgrade at third base without having to give up prospects or make a long term investment, while giving Josh Donaldson a chance to test the market again next year.
Donaldson, when healthy, is one of the best players in baseball. From his breakout season in 2013 until the end of 2017, he accumulated a fWAR of 34.3—second only to Mike Trout. Even accounting for injury ravaged 2018—when he appeared in only 52 games—Donaldson still ranked 2nd in fWAR.
2018 was somewhat of a lost season for Donaldson. Restricted to just 52 games in his contract year due to various injuries, he posted .246/.352/.449 with 1.3 fWAR between Toronto & Cleveland. It was also one of the reasons the curtains fell pretty quickly on a possibly exciting season for the Blue Jays.
This is a reunion of sorts between Donaldson and Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos. After all it was Anthopoulos, then GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, who pulled off a massive heist in 2015 when he traded for Donaldson in late 2014. Donaldson another another gear into what were already two terrific years in Oakland and ran away with the MVP award in 2015. In addition, he was vital to Blue Jays back to back ALCS runs in ‘15 and ‘16.
Anthopoulos is a shrewd GM, and once he senses an opportunity, he tends to make the most of it. He’s also not shy in upgrading a position which seemingly isn’t a hole that needs to be filled. Donaldson gives him just that; although third base wasn’t an issue with Johan Camargo starting 114 of his 134 games at third and accumulated 3.3 fWAR over the year, a healthy Donaldson has a much higher ceiling—anywhere between 4 and 5 wins, and with rosters being a constrained resources, the more wins you get from one position, the more exponentially valuable a player becomes. Adding a 4-5 win player at 23 million is a deal that most clubs would make in a heart beat.
Additionally, this also provides team with flexibility to play Camargo at short and second as well as provide cover for Donaldson in the event of an injury. In addition, a full year of Donaldson could provide Atlanta with a draft pick the following year should he be successful in finding suitors for 2020 and beyond.
From Donaldson’s standpoint, this gives him another chance at a multi-year deal next off-season. In an ideal scenario, he probably would look at Adrian Beltre’s five-year, $80 million dollars contract he signed with Texas in 2011. Beltre too had to sign a one year deal with Boston before signing a multi year deal, although Beltre was a year younger than Donaldson would be in the next off season.
This is a deal which is equally acceptable for both sides. It offers a low risk/high return scenario for Atlanta, while for Donaldson it is an opportunity to reestablish his value and maximize what could end up being his last chance at a 3-4 year deal.