Blue Jays: Re-signing Donaldson is crucial to the future

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 25: Josh Donaldson
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 25: Josh Donaldson /

After starting the season battling a nagging injury, Josh Donaldson has been reminding us a lot lately why he’s a perennial MVP contender, and the type of player the Blue Jays need to retain.

Josh Donaldson has been on a tear at the plate lately, and it’s been a great reminder of how talented he really is. At 31 years old, we’re looking at an elite player in the prime of his career, who would be in the MVP conversation for the fifth consecutive year if not for battling injury throughout the first half.

With just one year remaining on his contract once this season has concluded, Donaldson has been the topic of many a discussion about the Blue Jays, especially around the trade deadline. In fact, I’ll even admit that I was among those that thought the Blue Jays should explore trading their star third baseman, depending on the return of course.

Not anymore. I’m now firmly in the “give him an extension” camp, and I’m having a hard time remembering why I thought trading him was a good idea.

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Here’s the thing, Donaldson is among an elite group of players in baseball, and those truly elite players are hard to come by. The “Bringer of Rain” has been an MVP candidate for four years, winning in 2015, finishing 4th last year and in 2013, and 8th in 2014, earning 31.3 WAR during that period.

The Florida native has had a difficult season in 2017, mostly due nagging injuries in the first half. Even when he returned to the field early on, he wasn’t the same game changer that we had grown used to watching in Toronto. He never looked fully healthy, even up until the last month or so.

He was joined on the DL at the same time by Troy Tulowitzki, and it was hard not to wonder if the two of them would follow a similar career path. Tulowitzki has been one of the best players in baseball for nearly a decade, but he’s been reduced to a replacement level player this year when he’s been able to suit up. One has to think that Tulo has more left in the tank than he showed in 2017, but he has been battling injuries for many years, and regression happens to even the greatest of players. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks he’ll return to MVP form again, even among his biggest supporters.

Which is part of what was so troubling when looking at Donaldson early in the year, as he landed on the DL with the same calf issue that had been troubling him at various times throughout his tenure with the Blue Jays. Only now that all feels like a distant memory, as the slugger has been absolutely on fire, hitting .295/.429/.756 with 12 home runs and 27 RBI in August. He’s single-handedly taken over games at times, and has eight home runs in his last 13 games, bringing his WAR value up to 3.2, good for second on the team on offensive side.

For the Blue Jays, Justin Smoak‘s breakout year has him leading the team with 3.5 bWAR earned this season. That makes a great deal of sense, as Smoak was the team’s lone All-Star, and has 35 home runs to go with a .291/.364/.576 slash line. Only Smoak has played in 128 games this year to Donaldson’s 86. That’s not to take anything away from Smoak at all, but it’s also a testament to what Donaldson brings to the table, as well as a reflection of the difference in WAR value between first, and third basemen.

When he’s right, Donaldson has a greater game-changing ability than anyone on the Blue Jays’ roster, and it’s not really even close. As this team attempts to contend in 2018, and transitions to a new look in the years beyond, he’s the type of talent that can make the difference between baseball staying relevant in Toronto or not. He’ll turn 32 this offseason, so he’s theoretically coming to the end of his prime, but still has plenty of great baseball left in him as long as he can stay healthy. That last part is obviously the biggest key for him, but that’s the case for most players on the wrong side of 30.

As a member of the upcoming free agent class of 2019, there’s a good chance Donaldson could be overshadowed by Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and more, so it could be an opportunity for the Blue Jays to step up and retain their own star. He won’t come cheap, but knowing that the highest bidders will be throwing their money at the above mentioned stars and more, allows a lot greater opportunity for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, should they choose to go that route.

With elite talent in the minors in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and more, there is plenty to be excited about in the not so distant future, but those kids are going to need some time before they can lead a franchise. Having a player like Donaldson in the fold has multiple benefits when that generation comes along, let alone in the here and now. Leaning on guys like Donaldson and Smoak in 2019, and supplementing the team with Guerrero’s and Bichette’s could be a recipe for an exciting roster. Expecting the fan base to wait for the next generation on their own could be a lot more difficult.

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His recent play should remind us all of what the team has been missing throughout the year, and hopefully they’ll have a healthy Donaldson throughout 2018 to hammer the point home even further. With just three years remaining of guaranteed control for guys like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna as well, it’s all the more reason to keep a dynamic talent like Donaldson in the fold. Yes, he’ll be expensive, but a competitive team keeps the Rogers Centre rockin’, and I have a hard time thinking of a better way to spend the dough.