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Blue Jays: How They Should Extend Josh Donaldson

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 17: Josh Donaldson
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 17: Josh Donaldson /
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Presenting a solution for the Toronto Blue Jays to keep their franchise cornerstone, Josh Donaldson.

Donaldson’s Importance

Josh Donaldson is 32 years old. He dealt with lower body injuries throughout the 2017 season and he’s going to be seeking a nine-figure deal. But for the Blue Jays, Donaldson is worth the risk.

Sure, the Blue Jays happen to have an eighteen-year old, third base prospect with an 80 grade hit tool and yes, the modern game of baseball is revolving towards young and athletic players. However, Josh Donaldson is the face of the franchise. He’s the player that the new generation of Blue Jays faithful recognize, and a proven leader and consistent middle-of-the-order presence that every team needs.

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After losing Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in consecutive years, the Blue Jays cannot afford to let yet another superstar leave town – not when the passion for baseball has reached soaring heights in these last few years.

Contract Structure

So how should the Blue Jays extend their star third baseman? A creative offer that the Blue Jays should think about is one that offers both guaranteed years and vesting options.

Donaldson is set to enter the market at age 33, an older age than most free agents, and the length of a possible deal would likely be closer to 4-5 years rather than 6 -7 (hopefully). The Blue Jays should propose a five deal where the first three years are guaranteed and come with a high average annual value. The next two years should be structured as vesting options with a slightly less average annual value.

The First Three Years

Before deciding on Donaldson’s salary for the first three years, let’s take a look at what Donaldson was worth between 2015 and 2017.

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table 

Generated 2/18/2018.

In his three years with Toronto, Donaldson produced an average of around 7 bWAR per year. According to Fangraphs, the cost of 1 WAR in today’s market is about nine to ten million dollars. From that estimate, Josh Donaldson was worth around 60-70 million dollars/year in his time with the Blue Jays.

While it’s unreasonable to pay any player that kind of money, it’s safe to assume that Josh Donaldson will be a 4-5 WAR player for the next few years (even with annual regression). The Blue Jays can both capitalize on Donaldson’s prime and minimize risk for sudden regression by offering Donaldson a three year guarantee with a high annual value – something along the lines of three years and 30 million dollars/year.

The Last Two Years – Vesting Options

After the three guaranteed years, Donaldson will be 36 years old. While father-time affects even the best players, baseball has seen the likes of Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and David Ortiz succeed in the twilight of their careers.

The last two years of a Donaldson extension should be vesting options – 1 year deals that are offered if a player hits a predetermined milestone. Vesting options ensure that players earn their contract. In simple terms, there is no reason to not pay Donaldson if he is still producing at a high rate in his late thirties.

The Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson can decide on what performance incentive threshold determines the vesting option. For example, it could be number of home runs hit, number of plate appearances, or number of runs batted in. It is valuable for the last two years of a Donaldson extension to be vesting options because it prevents the Blue Jays from committing to a long-term contract. For the 2015 AL MVP, he can be rewarded handsomely if he continues to produce. A possible structure that could be offered is two consecutive, 1 year/25 million dollar vesting options.

In Total, A Three (Or Five) Year Extension

With this extension, there are three possible contracts. In all three scenarios, Donaldson is guaranteed 3 years and 90 million dollars. However, the difference between the three contracts stems from the vesting options.

Scenario One : Donaldson earns just the guaranteed contract – in year three, Donaldson under performs and the vesting option is not exercised (Total Contract: 3 year/90 million dollars)

Scenario Two : Donaldson performs well in the third year – he earns the first vesting option but does not perform well enough in the fourth year to earn the second vesting option (Total Contract: 4 year/115 million dollars)

Scenario Three : Donaldson consistently performs well throughout his extension and earns the full contract (Total Contract: 5 years/140 million dollars)

Next: Blue Jays 2018 Outfield Depth Chart

This extension is structured so both the Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson can benefit. For the Blue Jays, they are extending their franchise icon while assuming minimal risk. For Josh Donaldson, he gets a very fair guarantee with the additional chance to live up to what could be the biggest contract in Blue Jays history. After an offseason as crazy as this past one has been, anything seems possible, and this would be a nice way to keep the “Bringer of Rain” around, likely to round out his career.

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