Blue Jays: Could Donaldson’s calves affect his free agency in 2018?

Apr 13, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Josh Donaldson (20) walks off the field with trainer George Poulis after hitting an rbi double in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Josh Donaldson (20) walks off the field with trainer George Poulis after hitting an rbi double in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /
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With the Josh Donaldson landing on the DL again with a nagging calf injury, it’s worth asking the question, how bad is the Rogers Centre turf on his legs?

Josh Donaldson is back on the disabled list, where he likely should have been placed a few days ago to rest his nagging calf injury. As most of us know by now, Donaldson re-aggravated the injury during Thursday night’s game against Baltimore, legging out a double in the sixth inning.

The 2015 AL MVP has been battling the injury for awhile now, coming out of a game earlier in the week for the same reason, and struggling with the issue throughout spring training. In fact, Donaldson has had calf issues pretty much throughout his tenure with the Blue Jays, playing through the pain throughout most of the 2016 campaign.

Now that he’s back on the disabled list, the Blue Jays will have to try and snap out of their funk without their most talented hitter. His loss to the lineup is a big blow, especially considering the club has started out with a franchise worst 1-8 record to begin the 2017 schedule. They’ll play Baltimore again later today and hope to pick up a second win in their first ten games.

Donaldson will be back sooner than later, and hopefully the rest of the club can right in the ship during his absence. There is enough talent in the lineup that it should be a reasonable expectation, except that the Blue Jays are struggling at an all-time franchise low at the moment, so the timing couldn’t be a lot worse. The timing of all of this could be bad for a few other reasons as well though.

Donaldson has just under two years left on his contract with the Blue Jays, as he’s scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. While that’s a little ways from now and a lot can happen, it’s close enough that the situation is on the radar for the Blue Jays brass. The 2017 will be a key one in determining how the Blue Jays management handles the next 5-10 years, as the current roster represents the oldest average age in baseball.

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There are plenty of talented youngsters, such as Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, and Roberto Osuna, all combining to make less than 5 million this season. In the minors the Jays boast young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and more that could help the club avoid a complete tear down, as they could choose to use a model similar to what the New York Yankees are trying at the moment. Without completely tearing things down, the Yankees have stayed competitive while rebuilding the farm system and using young players at the big league level, who are quickly establishing themselves as the real deal.

If the Blue Jays decide to go that route, having someone like Donaldson around could be a key element in keeping them competitive. He could be the perfect guy to build around, as he’s only 31 at the moment and should be able to keep up his elite production into his mid to late 30’s. He’s the type of clubhouse leader a group of youngsters could greatly benefit from, which adds to his value.

All of that said, he’s about to get even more expensive than he is now, assuming he can put up reasonable numbers over the next two years. Donaldson will be looking to keep his competitive streak going and continue to push his club to the playoffs, but he’s also playing with the added incentive of driving up his next contract. Knowing that, Donaldson is likely very frustrated to have landed on the DL again, and further reinforcing that his legs are a consistent problem.

The problem for the Blue Jays is that Donaldson, and many other players before him, have had issues with the Rogers Centre turf. Looking back at comments from guys like Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes and more, it’s been a consistent issue for the club, as they’re among the last artificial surfaces to be found anywhere in baseball, Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field being the other. The Jays did add a dirt infield prior to last season, and upgraded the surface a couple years ago, but have no immediate plans to move to a natural surface.

Donaldson will have a lot to think about prior to his free agency. Among the variables will be his family’s comfort, the best contract offer he can procure, the direction of the Blue Jays, and of course, his own health. Perhaps the issue will be fixed at the Rogers Centre, rendering the issue moot at the time, but it’s worth asking if Donaldson isn’t looking forward to getting off the surface sooner than later, in hopes of stretching out his career as long as possible.

Next: Blue Jays can't afford to have Donaldson out for long

I’m not sure that’ll be the case, but as the Blue Jays’ best player heads to the DL once again, John Gibbons and the Blue Jays’ brass will have to make note of it for future reference again, perhaps planning more days for Donaldson as the DH to keep his legs fresh, once he’s able to return.

Hopefully, this will be a blip on the radar of an otherwise great year for the talented slugger, but at this point, I’d say it’s okay to start worrying about the issue, at least a little.

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