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What the Josh Donaldson signing means for Johan Camargo

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The Braves’ third baseman established himself with a solid season this year...then Atlanta got themselves a new third baseman.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

When you can get Josh Donaldson on a one-year deal, you get Josh Donaldson on a one-year deal. Here’s a list of teams that would not benefit from having Donaldson in 2019:

Even then, I’m not so sure.

The Braves got better on Monday, but if there’s one problem with the Donaldson signing it’s what are they going to do with Johan Camargo. In his sophomore season, Camargo slashed a solid .272/.349/.457 for a 115 wRC+. He also posted 7 DRS and 8.9 UZR/150 at third base.

All told, he was worth 3.3 fWAR. Camargo had a good year, but Donaldson is still better.

Having too many good players is a great problem to have; as the Dodgers have shown recently, depth is important, and they’ve got the pennants to prove it. If Donaldson gets hurt, Camargo will be there to take his place. If Dansby Swanson or Ozzie Albies gets hurt, Camargo can play second or third. The Braves are set up for the contingency of injury, but assuming everyone stays healthy, Camargo is the odd man out. There isn’t an obvious spot on the infield where Camargo can slide to permanently.

Trading Camargo or Dansby Swanson now would be a mistake. Unless it’s for a controllable starter, a trade would just make the team worse, and Donaldson’s only on a one-year deal, not to mention Donaldson’s health this upcoming year is questionable.

The Braves have Austin Riley waiting in the wings, and he’s torn up every level of the minors, so if Atlanta were to find themselves without Swanson/Camargo and Donaldson, they wouldn’t be totally screwed. Still, an above-average position player in the hand is worth two in the bush, and Camargo can still get 500 plate appearances spot starting all over the diamond.

Camargo will likely play a similar role to what Javier Báez has done for the Cubs in recent years. He’ll get starts at second, third, and short. It also shouldn’t surprise if the Braves try Camargo out in the outfield.

He spent most of his minor-league career as a shortstop, and his bat would represent an upgrade over Swanson’s. The former number one overall pick hasn’t put things together at the plate as he hit for just an 80 wRC+, and that was 16 points greater than his 2017 campaign.

If Camargo is going to oust anyone out of a starting job, it likely would be Swanson. The only question is the defense. In 345 23 major league innings at short, Camargo has been worth -2 DRS and -5.4 UZR/150. That’s a small sample size, but Camargo also hasn’t been a full-time shortstop since 2015. An optimistic expectation is for Camargo to be an average shortstop, but that pales to Swanson who was a two-win player on his glove alone.

A straight platoon doesn’t make much sense because Swanson has good numbers against both lefties and righties throughout his career. As a switch hitter, Camargo also avoided a platoon split in 2018, though in his career he has a 98 wRC+ from the left side and a 141 on the right.

It’s partly the same story at second base. Like Camargo, Ozzie Albies is also a switch-hitter and stronger from the right side, but Albies’ splits were more pronounced as he hit for a 141 wRC+ as a right-hander compared to 84 as a lefty. Slotting Camargo into second continues to be an option for when Albies needs a day off and there’s a right-hander on the mound.

If Camargo takes to his new utility role well, his getting replaced by a former-MVP might actually benefit him. If he can show that he can play competent defense up the middle or even in the outfield, his value will rise.


Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville.