Blue Jays: Donaldson is the key to the short term future

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 17: Josh Donaldson /

Josh Donaldson has been red hot at the plate lately, and has reminded Blue Jays fans of his importance to the team, especially in the short term future.

As the 2017 season winds down, many Blue Jays fans have already turned their eyes toward 2018 and beyond, and are dreaming of meaningful September baseball. While there is nothing left to play for except pride and their role as a playoff spoiler, the Blue Jays are getting a pretty historic performance from Josh Donaldson at the moment.

The third baseman has been absolutely sizzling at the plate lately, going 9-14 over his last three games, and hitting five home runs and six RBI in the process. With his two home runs on Sunday, it was his second consecutive multi-homer game, and it also brought his season total to 30.

More than anything, it’s been a reminder for me about the importance of 2015 AL MVP to the Blue Jays, both in the immediate term and in their short, and long term future. When he’s healthy, he’s a top 5 player in the game, and we’ve been witnessing that first hand in the second half of this season, when he’s not so coincidently been at full strength. In fact, his OPS was sitting at .979 entering Sunday’s game (before he added two more home runs), which sits higher than his totals in 2016, and in his MVP season in 2015. He’s been simply outstanding.

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With just one year of club control remaining, the Blue Jays have to be asking themselves a lot of questions about his future with the team, with perhaps the most important being whether they can, or choose to retain him beyond 2018. Assuming he isn’t extended before hitting free agency, Donaldson joins a star studded free agency class including Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be undervalued. In fact, Donaldson leads that trio in WAR from 2015-17 with 20.2 WAR, as Machado has earned 17.0, and Harper 16.2.

There have been many great players in Blue Jays’ history, but Donaldson’s performance is among the best we’ve ever seen in Toronto. With that in mind, can the front office really consider letting someone like that go?

I know, I know… Vladimir Guerrero is the top prospect in the game and is a third baseman as well, but in my opinion that shouldn’t factor into this equation much, if at all. It’s great to know that a potential star is coming to fill his shoes if he leaves, but how soon can we expect that from a guy who is still just 18 years old? Didn’t the front office say they wanted to compete again in 2018?

Without the “Bringer of Rain” in the lineup next year, I don’t think it’s even remotely possible that John Gibbons‘ club sniffs the playoff picture. Yes, there is a lot of talent on the roster and 2017 was a comedy of errors and injuries, but Donaldson was a crucial part of the club getting to the second season in 2015 and 2016, and is arguably even more important right now. Edwin Encarnacion is in Cleveland, and Jose Bautista is down to his final two weeks as a Blue Jay (we all assume anyway), so this team is quickly losing the franchise faces from their playoff appearances.

To me, Donaldson represents the biggest piece to the future direction of the franchise, especially in the short term. If Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins choose to keep him for 2018 and try to extend him beyond that, it tells me that this team believes they can still re-tool and contend in the process. I would also argue that they should take that attitude, especially considering that Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna are all under contract for the next three seasons. Having that much talent as a foundation in your pitching staff would be a shame to waste, and that’s exactly what the club would be doing without Donaldson manning the hot corner at the same time.

He’ll be 32 when the 2018 campaign opens, and it’s hard to imagine him falling off the cliff any time soon, especially with the way he’s been mashing the ball lately. There are cautionary tales all over the game, but Donaldson is among the truly elite hitters in the game, and should provide positive value even after his peak is over (don’t tell me it already is, or you haven’t been watching him lately).

As the Guerrero’s and Bo Bichette‘s of the system make their way to the highest level, it could potentially allow for more time at DH for the 2015 MVP, or even a move to a less demanding position like first base. I don’t see that coming right away, but the Blue Jays have enough depth in their MiLB infield picture that they could get creative in the coming seasons. And with Donaldson in the lineup throughout the changing of the guard, I do believe that this team could stay competitive with a little luck throughout the transition, even if that seems like a nearly impossible task.

The bottom line to me is, if the Blue Jays are serious about winning before that next wave of prospects comes along, Donaldson has to be a part of that plan. It’s not an ideal scenario to be sure, but there are enough foundational pieces already on the roster that may not be around for those prospects to become truly impactful big leaguers. With the timing between the Stroman/Sanchez/Osuna, etc group, and the Guerrero/Bichette/Gurriel, etc forthcoming era, Donaldson represents the best way to help bridge that gap.

The front office could choose to trade him now and solve the timeline issue that way, but that would signal at least a few years of the team surrendering to their AL East counterparts, and Canadian baseball fans deserve better than that. This fanbase was revived over the last 2+ seasons, and there shouldn’t be an option but to try and field a winner for the AL’s 2nd highest average attendance, despite a last place team.

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Ultimately it’ll be up to Donaldson himself if he wants to stay in Toronto, but either way the front office needs to make every effort to retain him if they want to stay relevant in the next 3-5 years. To me, he’s the key to the short term future of the franchise.