Blue Jays, Donaldson, and What If

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 29: Josh Donaldson
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 29: Josh Donaldson /

Josh Donaldson has been speculatively linked to several teams on the trade front this season.  What would/could a trade look like?

Let’s start with the obvious.  Josh is good.  Real good.  His 23.9 WAR since 2014 is second only to some fish from Anaheim.  He would represent a significant upgrade at third base for almost every team in baseball, and for most teams that upgrade would be substantial.  If (big if) the Jays were to trade him, the return should be substantial.

But what would such a trade look like?

First of all, let’s talk about the partners.  A team trading for Josh would likely see itself as a serious contender, both in 2017 and 2018.  They would have the prospects or MLB-ready assets to make a deal, and the financial capability to absorb Josh’s arb award in 2018.  Third base and a middle-lineup power bat would be areas of need.  On that basis, teams that have been speculated as potential JD trade partners include the Cardinals and Astros, and possibly the Yankees and Red Sox.

(As an aside – would the Jays trade Josh within their own division?  I would hope so if the return were much better than they could get elsewhere)

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Second, let’s talk about the kind of players that would come back to the Jays.  It is possible that a team could trade a current starter, and accept a downgrade at one position in exchange for a much larger upgrade at third.  But a trading team would likely prefer to hold on to current assets and instead deal from prospects.  Ideally, from the trading team perspective, those prospects would not be critical to the future of the team, but instead, be blocked or minimized to some degree by existing MLB assets.

For the Jays to trade Josh. they would have to believe that their chances in 2017 and 2018 are not high.  It follows that taking back veteran assets would not be optimal.  But with Stroman, Sanchez, Osuna et al just coming into their prime, I would suggest that the Jays would be less interested in younger prospects who are still 3-4 years away from the majors.  I suspect that the Jays would be looking for young, controllable assets who could legitimately be expected to contribute in 2018, if not even in 2017.

So, on the basis of the above, let’s start the wildly unfounded trade speculation.  Note that I am focusing only on the main prospect piece taken back – additional players would almost certainly be involved on either side.

Cardinals – Alex Reyes

One writer has suggested that the Cardinals could get Josh for a package around Kolten Wong.  I would not expect that this would be enough, particularly with other teams in a bidding war.  A more intriguing option – though a dangerous one – would be Alex Reyes.

Reyes is a highly-ranked young pitcher (Baseball America #4 going into 2017).  In 46 innings in 2016, he pitched to a 1.57 ERA (albeit with a 3.96 SIERA).  Under normal circumstances, he would not be available – he would be an integral part of the Cards’ 2017 playoff run.  But Reyes had Tommy John surgery in February of 2017, and will accordingly miss all of 2017 and (likely) a good chunk of 2018.

Would the Cards be willing to part with a player with huge upside, but red flags, who will not provide short-term value, in exchange for a (blue)bird in the hand?  And if they would, would the Jays be willing to take the risk, knowing that TJ surgery is no guarantee that a player can return at the same level?

Houston – Alex Bregman + Francis Martes

I said above that teams would hesitate to trade current assets in a Donaldson deal.  The obvious exception to that rule would be trading their existing third baseman.  Houston’s Alex Bregman had a good 2016, with a 112 wRC+ and a ~3 WAR pace, but he is struggling in 2017.  Still, he has upside and if the Astros trade for JD he will likely be without a position (the Astros have someone named Correa at shortstop).  The Jays could play Bregman at third base, or (if Tulo were dealt) they could move him to short, where his defense would likely be average or marginally below but where his value would be much higher.

Martes is ranked #17 on Baseball America’s latest top 100 prospects list.  He has a 93-97 mph fastball that touches 100, a plus curve, and is making progress with a potentially plus changeup.  His weakness (like many young flamethrowers) is control.  Many scouts see him in the Aaron Sanchez mold – starting out in the bullpen, then hopefully transitioning to the starting rotation.  Martes is already pitching for Houston, but with a 5.06 ERA he is likely not seen as a major short-term asset.

(And yes, for the Kyle Tucker fans out there, you could also do this deal as Bregman + Tucker)

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Yankees – Gleyber Torres

Torres is an elite prospect (ranked #2 by BA in their May prospect list).  Like Reyes, he recently underwent Tommy John surgery, so he is unlikely to contribute to the Yanks in 2017 or 2018.  GT is a natural shortstop, with outstanding hands, but there are concerns that the weight he has added to increase his strength at the plate could eventually move him to third.  The Yankees have Gregorius at short and Castro at second, so a move to third might be his only option.

Tommy John surgery is less of a risk for a position player than for a pitcher, so the downside to a Torres is arguably less than it would be for a Reyes.  But would the Jays be prepared to accept that risk, even assuming that they would consider an interdivisional trade at all?

Red Sox – Rafael Devers + ?

The Red Sox are the frontrunners to win the AL East, but their position of greatest weakness is likely third base.  They also need a middle-of-the-order power hitter (in the David Ortiz mold).  A Donaldson acquisition would be a match made in heaven.

Rafael Devers is a 20-year-old third base prospect, ranked #14 by BA in their May list.  Devers is a plus defender at third, with a very good arm (some scouts have described him as the best defensive 3B at his level).  He also has an exceptional hit tool, batting left-handed, and is considered to be largely MLB-ready.  He could (insert usual prospect caveat here) become an all-star level third baseman, in time.  But if Boston is looking to win now, a Josh might be hugely more valuable than a might-someday-become-Josh.

Next: Blue Jays trade candidates not named Josh Donaldson

The bottom line

Any of these deals would almost certainly be far more complex than a one-for-one.  Other players (Happ, Estrada, Smith) could be involved from the Jays’ end, and other prospects taken back.  The Jays might even consider taking back a bad contract if by doing so they could get a higher prospect return.  But it is clear that if the Jays are looking for a deal structured around an elite level prospect in a position of team need, there will be no lack of options.