Trade Deadline NON-Candidate: Josh Donaldson

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)

With the trade deadline only a small handful of days away, a lot of Jays fans are debating which members of the team should be shopped in order to fulfill the goal of building the farm for the future and compete during the 2018 season. This, of course, is a very difficult task set out by GM Ross Atkins and President Mark Shapiro, as a lot of the assets that would allow the team to build a robust farm system are also those that may hinder their chances of competing for a post-season spot in 2018. Yet, this doesn't stop Jays fans from playing Fantasy Baseball in their heads by evaluating which players would enable the Jays to do both. Players like Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Smith are the obvious candidates, as all three of them are unrestricted free agents once the off-season hits. However, it's doubtful that any of these players would net a significant return, regardless of whether they are shopped individually or in a package. For the most part, Blue Jays fans have become mindful of this and, as a result, turn their attention to those that are on near expiring deals that could net a return that can help strengthen the franchise. One name that has been tossed out there, much to my dismay, has been Josh Donaldson. 

The case for trading Donaldson is not something that I would discourage people from thinking about. Just because I don't like the thought of the Jays trading Donaldson and don't think it's in their best interest to do so doesn't mean that there couldn't be a situation in which I would be alright with it. Theoretically, any and all of the players on the Blue Jays roster are tradable, depending on the return. I mean, would you turn your nose up to a Donaldson for Mike Trout trade, as extremely unlikely as it may be? Absolutely not. However, in real world situations, I can't think of a situation in which the Jays would be serving their self-proclaimed goal of competing in the 2018 season while at the same time trading away Donaldson. The return would have to consist of major-league ready or veteran talent, making the whole thing a bit redundant and also not in the interest of the team that is looking to acquire Donaldson. Teams that are trying to make that last big push for the playoffs are the teams that would have the most interest in a player like Donaldson. Such teams would consist of players that have helped get them in a position where a post-season opportunity is possible, but would (probably) be part of deal for Donaldson, thereby not making them really any better or worse. 

Yet, an argument can be made that if there was a team that was willing to trade away a handful of highly touted prospects that are knocking on the door for the majors that it could help the Jays remain competitive and become younger with players that have far more control than Donaldson. After all, Donaldson has one more year of arbitration left and will cost the Jays somewhere in the neighborhood of $18-$20 million (complete guess here) before hitting the open market in 2019. The case for moving a player like Donaldson would be to acquire assets that would be around the organization for much longer (assuming Donaldson signs elsewhere while a free agent) and won't cost the team nearly as much, enabling them to use the leftover payroll to fill other areas of need. 

The problem here is that little caveat that we can't help but go back to in that the Jays have outright stated that they intend to compete with the majority of players that they already have under contract during the 2018 season. Trading away players like Donaldson, Happ, Smoak, Stroman, or Sanchez completely abandons this intention and would be a very difficult sell for Rogers share holders, season ticket holders, and the team's diehard fans. Specifically, Donaldson has the opportunity to be the face of the franchise next year, as he may be far and away the most popular Blue Jay on the roster and one that fans recognize rather quickly. As I mentioned in my article I wrote earlier this week illustrating why a full rebuild isn't what's best, trading away Donaldson would forfeit a boatload of potential revenue and ticket sales that the club, as a business, cannot afford to sacrifice. People need a reason to come to the dome. Sure, the diehards can argue that they do it for the love and loyalty they devote to the Jays, but the more casual fans need a bigger incentive such as a player that they can be excited about. Josh Donaldson fills that incentive.

It may helpful to look towards those that are privy to betting odds when evaluating the likelihood of Donaldson being traded. Matt McEwan of Sports Betting Dime suggests that the likelihood that the Jays trade Donaldson come the July 31st deadline are 7/2, as he describes the situation between the Jays and Donaldson as "interesting." He further goes on to verbalize what is on the vast majority of minds of Jays fans when dealing with the "Do they? or Don't they?" question of trading Donaldson. To boot - 

JD has one year of arbitration left before becoming a free-agent. Do they deal him now while his value is still pretty high, or hold on for another run in 2018 — and then risk losing him for nothing?

This is the key question that makes the case for and against trading Donaldson so curious. But with the caveat of hoping to compete during the 2018 season already established and vocalized, I don't think it's likely that the Jays move Donaldson this year. Yet, there is a case to be made for the club to make such a move next season should they be in the same position as they are now. However, we aren't even at that point right now so we can table that discussion for another day.

We also have to admit that Donaldson is struggling a bit this season and the return that he deserves may not be offered to the Jays in any trade scenario that they've seen this season. Thus far in 252 plate appearances and 210 at bats, Donaldson has produced a line of .238/.365/.424, an OPS of .789, with 50 hits, 12 doubles, 9 home runs, 24 runs, 29 RBI's, with a strikeout percentage of about 25% and a walk rate of about 16%. It's been an uncharacteristic type of year for Donaldson, so the return in any trade right now wouldn't serve the interest of the club when it comes to competing next season. Thus, however likely or unlikely it is for them to do so, it doesn't make much baseball sense for them to do so right now. Sometimes it's best to hold on to the card you have.

Thus, as much as fans get discouraged when the team loses games that we otherwise think they ought to be winning, trading key contributors and generational talents such as Donaldson won't help the club with their current short-term goals. If the Jays want to have any shot of competing next year - and I believe that they do - trading Josh Donaldson would be something I'd imagine isn't even close to on their agenda.

He's not going anywhere... for now.

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