As teams around the MLB continue to hesitate to hand out big money/long term deals, a Josh Donaldson extension starts to make even more sense.
Here we are with just four days left in 2017, and the vast majority of the premier free agents are still available on the open market. It’s been the slowest moving offseason I can ever remember, which could lead to one of the more unpredictable offseasons in recent memory. We’re used to watching teams like the Yankees and Dodgers flex their financial muscle, and so far a three year, 60 million dollar deal for Carlos Santana is the biggest move to happen.
Joel Sherman of the New York post had a great article earlier today that examined the big money/long term contracts in the MLB, and why many teams are shying away from them this offseason. In fact, he points out that of 14 players who are working on free agent contracts with an average salary of over 20 million, and a total of 100 million, only two are undeniably working out for their respective teams.
Don’t believe me? (or rather, Mr Sherman), have a look for yourself:
- Max Scherzer
- Jon Lester
- Zack Greinke
- Yoenis Cespedes
- Masahiro Tanaka
- Johnny Cueto
- David Price
- Albert Pujols
- Robinson Cano
- Prince Fielder
- Jason Heyward
- Chris Davis
- Jordan Zimmerman
- Jacoby Ellsbury
As Sherman points out, Scherzer and Lester have been solid signings for their respective teams, but you could shoot holes through the arguments for the rest. Greinke is ridiculously expensive and plays for a team with somewhat limited payroll, Tanaka has some injury concerns, Cueto underperformed last year, and Price’s season was a disaster. Pujols would likely retire if not for his contract, Cano had a down year in 2017 and has a lot of contract left, Fielder has retired…… you get the point I hope.
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All of these factors have lead to a reluctance from GMs across the league when it comes to long term commitments, and the more you examine the history of these deals the more it makes sense. While the Blue Jays had been historically chided for their unwillingness to give a free agent deal longer than five years in length (under past leadership anyway), that line of thinking is becoming more popular in today’s game.
That said, completely swearing off big money contracts isn’t necessarily the greatest strategy either, as those deals are usually reserved for the truly impact players in the game. As baseball continues to evolve, we’re seeing more arguments made for a younger prime of 25-29 as opposed to what used to be accepted as 27-32, which has shifted the thinking even more. The reality in the current structure of the MLB is that most teams get the best of their players before they’re ever free agents.
The Blue Jays are staring down the barrel of their own impact player’s free agency, as Josh Donaldson will be available to the highest bidder after the 2018 season. He’s almost certain to get over 100 million and an AAV of 20+ million, so he’ll fall into the category of the players listed above. Does that mean the Blue Jays should take a hard pass? I would argue that Donaldson is the perfect type of exception.
Because he’ll enter free agency at the age of 33, the “Bringer of Rain” won’t be able to secure a 10 year deal like Cano or Pujols, and will likely fall somewhere between 5-7 years. As we’ve watched the market develop this year, I would argue that five years seems the most likely for a player of his age, MVP on his resume or not. It’s hard to say what the AAV will end up like, but somewhere between 25-30 million would be my best guess.
Let’s say you can sign him for five years, and right in the middle of 25-30 million, which would come to 5 years, 137.5 million. That’s a lot of money, and a good chunk of the Blue Jays’ payroll, but I would argue that it’s a better investment than almost all of the MegaDeal contracts mentioned above, assuming you can keep it to five years.
Donaldson showed that he’s still an MVP calibre hitter in the second half of 2017, and that there is good reason to believe he’s got a lot of gas left in the tank. As 33, I would be more than willing to bet on him as an elite third baseman for at least the next two years, if not more. On a five year deal, he could shift to first base/designated hitter for the last year or two of his contract (if necessary), and should still provide a decent amount of thump with the bat, even if he’s getting expensive as the contract gets older.
The former MVP didn’t become that elite player until his later 20’s, and the Blue Jays really have had the best years of his career from ages 29-31 so far. Because he hit his stride a little later than other MVP types, he won’t be able to secure the decade long deal that cripples so many front offices around the game. Like the MegaDeals listed above, Donaldson will be overpaid in the final year or two of his contract regardless of where he ends up, but if you only have to overpay for a couple years instead of 5-6 like in some other cases, would that not be considered a win?
Maybe the Blue Jays ultimately decide they don’t want to commit that much money to a player on the wrong side of 30, especially after watching the rapid decline of Jose Bautista. However, if they’re willing to make that type of signing at all, Donaldson makes as much sense as anyone.