The Toronto Blue Jays are at a crossroads, particularly with their former American League Most Valuable Player, Josh Donaldson.
Their trade to get Donaldson back in the 2014-15 offseason helped spark their run to two consecutive ALCS appearances, and bolster the already lethal power unit of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Donaldson was the first Blue Jay player to nab an MVP award since George Bell in 1987. Just as Bautista had before, Donaldson quickly became the face of the franchise, despite a mere three seasons in the uniform.
The bill came due on those two playoff runs last season, with the team unable to break .500. Donaldson was typically excellent when healthy, but the absence of Encarnacion—and the precipitous declines of both Bautista and Troy Tulowitski—took their tolls. With the farm system looking barren beyond its two blue chips—Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette—Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins may have to seriously consider a rebuild.
Should they do so, Donaldson is the best asset they have. The return he could bring would be sizable. The Cardinals were long rumored to be interested in Donaldson’s services, and the fit seems right. St. Louis needs another premium bat and has a need at third base. Shapiro and Atkins were interested in major league talent as well, which the Cardinals could provide in some combination of Randal Grichuk, Jedd Gyorko, Matt Carpenter, or some pitching. Such a move might ease the rebuild pain, since the Jays could easily find spots for all of those guys on the 25-man roster.
Nothing has happened yet, and one wonders if it’s because the Cardinals are balking at the price. They may value their surplus major league talent a little higher than merely getting Donaldson and potentially another piece back. Furthermore, there isn’t much of a market for Donaldson besides St. Louis. All other contenders are set at third base besides the Yankees, and there’s no way Brian Cashman would fork over major leaguers to get Donaldson for one year only. The oversupply of — and lack of demand for — third basemen partly explain why Manny Machado has yet to be traded… and why Mike Moustakas has yet to sign anywhere. The market just isn’t great if you have the goods at the corner.
On the other hand, perhaps Shapiro and Atkins are dragging their feet. Who can blame them? Donaldson projects to be a six-win player in 2018, despite his advancing age. He is still one of the best players in baseball, and the one who gave Blue Jay fans reason to believe again. It’s not easy to trade a guy like that, especially since the team projects to be on the fringe of the wild card race. Why begin the rebuild now when you can see if you can make another run at the playoffs, and if not, ship Donaldson in July to someone who is desperate for a rental?
It’s a tough call to make. You can squint and see Toronto in the wild card game next October with Donaldson manning his post. You can also just as easily see the Jays winning 75 games with or without him. Nobody knows what the trade deadline may bring, and it could be the case that no contender will need Donaldson’s services for two or three months. Too many question marks hang over this situation.
If I’m Shapiro or Atkins, I know I am paid to make the tough calls. I get John Mozeliak back on the phone and reopen negotiations. I know that I can mitigate the gap between Donaldson’s departure and Guerrero’s arrival with Gyorko. I can make a deal all parties will be satisfied with.
Maybe the Blue Jays’ window has closed for now. But it doesn’t have to stay closed for long, even if Donaldson isn’t around to see it reopen. He gave Blue Jay fans their best years since the back-to-back World Series victories of the early 1990s. That should be enough, knowing that things will turn around faster than one might expect.
Donaldson brought the rain; now it’s time to brave a dry spell for a short while.