With the likes of Shohei Ohtani, Blake Snell, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto all free agents this winter and the growing buzz about the Blue Jays potentially open to trading Alek Manoah, the slow offseason took an interesting turn down memory lane yesterday involving a former AL MVP.
Former Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson was interviewed by the team over at theScore, covering a variety of topics, including how he feels physically, looking ahead to the 2024 season, and reminiscing about the trade to Toronto back in 2014. One topic in particular stuck out from the interview, which caught the attention of Blue Jays fans across social media and spread a bit like wildfire amongst the fanbase.
When asked about a potential reunion between Donaldson and the Jays in free agency, the “Bringer of Rain” expressed an interest in returning North of the border, ” Yeah, definitely looking forward to seeing if they reach out. That would definitely be something that I would be interested in doing. That’s just where I’ve always felt like it was home for me. My fiancée, she’s from Toronto. Our kids are half-Canadian. Her family is all up there, which would be great for them to be able to be around all year long. For me, that would be the tip of the iceberg, which would be great and we’ll see what happens.”
Josh Donaldson – With the Blue Jays and since being traded
Looking back on history, Donaldson’s time with the Blue Jays was filled with a lot of highs, which included two Silver Slugger Awards, the 2015 AL MVP Award, and two All-Star appearances while helping the Jays contend in the 2015 and 2016 postseason runs. He will forever go down in Blue Jays folklore for taking home base on an errant throw from Rougned Odor in game #3 of the ALDS against Texas, with Donaldson’s play securing the win for the Jays and helped the club sweep Texas to advance to the ALCS.
WALK-OFF IN TORONTO!
Josh Donaldson is safe on the slide at home as the Blue Jays sweep the Rangers to move on to the ALCS! pic.twitter.com/hKHuMcVE5U
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 10, 2016
Through four seasons, Donaldson appeared in 462 games and slashed .281/.383/.548 while collecting 116 home runs and posting a .931 OPS. The right-handed bat amassed a 19.5 bWAR during his time with Toronto before he was traded at the 2018 trade deadline with the Blue Jays set for a rebuild and Donaldson heading into free agency.
He would finish that season with Cleveland before inking a one-year deal worth $23 million with the Atlanta Braves the following offseason, spending just the lone campaign with the Braves. He would cash in the following winter, signing a four-year deal with the Minnesota Twins worth $92 million but lasting just two seasons with the club before being traded to the New York Yankees during the 2021/2022 offseason. He lasted just under two seasons with the Yankees, with a calf injury limiting Donaldson to just 33 games last year before the club released him in late August, with Donaldson eventually signing a MiLB deal with the Brewers and spending a few games on the big league roster to round out the campaign.
Looking at the fit of Donaldson and the Blue Jays
As of right now, there is a hole at third base with Matt Chapman currently a free agent and there is a potential scenario where he does not return (although the Jays have expressed interest in bringing him back). Should he leave, the spot would be open for an internal option (Davis Schneider, Orelvis Martinez, and Santiago Espinal amongst others) or the Jays could pursue an external option like Donaldson or perhaps Jeimer Candelario, who the Jays have also expressed interest in early this winter (seemingly as a Chapman fail safe).
Statistically, Donaldson really struggled at the plate last season, authoring just a .152 average while striking out 26.5% of the time and offering a .115 BABip on the season. One could suggest the injury and small sample size had a significant part to play but even his 2022 season with the Yankees was underwhelming, with the third baseman appearing in 132 games and posting a .682 OPS with 15 home runs, his lowest total since 2018 (excluding the shortened COVID campaign). He also generated a 33.2 Whiff% (8th percentile) and saw a decrease in batting-related attributes such as average exit velocity, barrel% and hard-hit%.
While he did struggle at the plate last year (albeit small sample size), one positive was he posted significantly higher stats against LHP (.948 OPS with six home runs and three doubles through 47 at-bats) but the contact was still down, going just 10 for 47 (.215) at the plate against southpaws. Interestingly enough, his power was on display when facing left-handers, as all but one of his hits was for extra bases this past season when facing a lefty on the mound.
Defensively, Donaldson can still hang at third base, posting a 10 DRS since 2021 at the hot corner with just 27 errors, although he missed a large portion of the 2023 season due to injury (which is also cause for concern for the soon-to-be 38-year-old).
If the Jays were serious about linking back up with Donaldson, it likely wouldn’t be in the same capacity as to what fans are used to seeing.
He likely wouldn’t be getting full-time reps at third base and if his bat starts to struggle, he will likely see more time on the bench compared to regular playing time. The right-hander would likely be in the lineup when a left-hander was on the mound but the Jays would be hoping the bat could generate some more contract with that power that was seen last season.
Bringer Of Rain back in Toronto? 👀
— theScore (@theScore) November 20, 2023
Donaldson has stated that he would like to play one more season, although it needs to be a proper situation, which likely screams a full-time opportunity versus sitting on the bench and playing platoon baseball. That all comes down to his comfort level, as realistically, there are better options out in the free agent market for the Jays when it comes to full-time players (Candelario, Chapman, Justin Turner, Gio Urshela, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, to name a few) and the club could use one of their internal prospects for increased playing time as well. Espinal likely has the advantage compared to Martinez, Schneider (who is more suited for second base anyway), Ernie Clement, Cavan Biggio (utility more so than third), and Damiano Palmegiani, although the Dominican product struggled in 2023 and one of these other players could outplay Espinal for his roster spot this Spring Training.
Conclusion – Blue Jays and Donaldson reunion might not make sense
Looking ahead, it seems that a Donaldson/Blue Jays reunion is more for nostalgia purposes rather than realistic need or fit, considering the Blue Jays are currently in a playoff contending window that is decreasing in size each offseason Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette play without a contract extension on the books.
The likelihood of Donaldson playing sporadically off the bench and potentially getting DFA’d on the Blue Jays is quite high unless he really exceeded expectations and was able to lock down the third base position and stay healthy all year. This also likely hangs on the balance of whether the Jays bring back Chapman or lock down Candelario (or another external option) as well, as the Jays wouldn’t bring on a veteran like Donaldson if there is an established player at third base entering next season (and beyond).
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Title: Don’t expect a reunion between the Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson
Author: Tyson Shushkewich