Blue Jays Megabucks Options: Donaldson vs Stanton

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 25: Giancarlo Stanton
MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 25: Giancarlo Stanton /

Would the Jays be better off pursuing an extension for Josh Donaldson in the offseason or trading for a different superstar – like Giancarlo Stanton?

Jose Bautista‘s days as the slugging face of the Jays franchise are almost certainly over.  Some would say that Josh Donaldson inherited that mantle some years ago.  But Donaldson is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season, leaving the Jays without an MVP candidate in the batting order (at least, until Vladdy and Bo arrive!)

Some writers have suggested that the Jays might look to extend Donaldson in this upcoming offseason.  If the mega-deals signed by Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano are any indication, this could cost the Jays something like 8 years and $200 million(i.e. through his age 39 season).  A lot of money … but for a lot of player.

As an alternative, writers like our own Jason Lee have suggested that Giancarlo Stanton might be an interesting trade possibility for the Jays.  The Marlins are rumoured to be looking to limit payroll to $100 million in 2018 – Stanton would consume $25 million of that.  And the remaining 10 years and $295 million on Stanton’s contract after 2017 will be even harder to fit into a modest Marlins budget.

Stanton cleared revokable waivers in August, though four teams have reportedly asked about a trade.  However, apparently none of them were willing to pick up the full Stanton salary, so the Marlins would likely have to pick up some of his cost if they expect to get an level of prospect return.

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So let me propose a thought experiment.

Suppose, in the 2017-18 offseason, Donaldson agreed to sign with the Jays for 8 years and $200 million, starting with the 2018 season.  So his deal would run through 2025, in which year he would be 39 years old.  And further suppose that the Marlins agreed to trade Stanton to Toronto for an acceptable prospect cost (no, that does NOT mean Bo or Vladdy) and retain $45 million, so the Jays would be on the hook for 10/$250 million.  Both contracts would therefore have an AAV of $25 million.  And finally, suppose that the Jays could not afford both, so this was an either-or.

Which would you pick?

The Mega-contract dilemma

Some fans will answer that the Jays should not enter either contract – that $200 million is just too much for a single player, and that the risks are too high.  This might be true, but as I wrote in a previous article such contracts should be considered in the context of MLB salary inflation.  So, for example, the $25 million payable to Stanton in 2025 under his current deal would only equate to $13.4 million in 2017 dollars.  Not an unreasonable price for a player of Stanton’s calibre, even a 37-year-old one.

The case for our own

Donaldson is crazy-good.  Top 8 in MVP voting in 2013-16 (won in 2015).  Over those four years, his 30.5 WAR is second only to some fish in Anaheim.  In short, a beast and a half.

Plus, he has done all this while playing excellent defense at third base (his +10.4 UZR/150 from 2013-16 is second only to Manny Machado at that position).  And it even appears that Donaldson can play shortstop in a pinch!

Perhaps most importantly, the “Bringer of Rain” is a known quantity.  His batting style is well suited to the Dome – over the 2.5 years he has played for Toronto, he has a 171 wRC+ at home as compared to a 132 on the road.

The knock against him is that, at 32 years old in 2018, he is entering the declining phase of his career.  The 35 games he has missed due to injury in 2017 is more than the previous four years combined, and his 142 wRC+, while still excellent, is the lowest of his career as a Jay.  One need only look at Jose Bautista to see how quickly a superstar can decline.

The case for Giancarlo

Stanton is 27 – four full years younger than Donaldson.  And Stanton is no slouch either – from 2013-17, he beats Donaldson in wRC+ (148 to 146), home runs (165 to 154) and OPS (.926 to .896).  But Stanton plays right field, so even though he has a career UZR/150 of +3.7 his defensive WAR is far less than Donaldson’s, with the result that Stanton’s 2013-16 WAR is only 20.2.

But Stanton has the age advantage.  His 167 wRC+ and 50 home runs so far are both the highest of his career, and at 27 he should remain at peak for several years.  Arguably the comparison of past Donaldson to past Stanton is irrelevant, and we should be comparing future expected Stanton to future Donaldson.

Another argument for Stanton (though a lesser one) is the Vladdy factor.  If you believe (as I do) that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is only two years away from the majors, and that he will stick at third base, then Donaldson’s ability to play third is of lesser value.  Donaldson could of course move to first or to DH, but in doing so he would lose much of his value.  Josh playing first would likely generate less WAR than “Cruz” in right.

There are a few knocks against Stanton.  First, he has an opt-out clause after the 2020 season.  This means that the Jays would only have three years of guaranteed team control.  But this might not be an altogether bad thing – getting him for his age 28-31 seasons for $77 million would not be so terrible.  Second, he has been struggling in the field of late, with UZR/150 less than his career average of +3.7 in four of his last five years.  And finally, the Jays might have to enhance his deal to get Stanton to waive his no-trade clause.

So which one would you do?

Next: Biagini's struggles may alter the front office's plans