Blue Jays: Lessons to take into Josh Donaldson negotiations

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Josh Donaldson
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Josh Donaldson /

After one of the more interesting offseasons in MLB history, what can the Blue Jays learn from it as they approach Josh Donaldson’s pending free agency?

After an offseason that moved about as quickly as a turtle stuck in molasses, there were a couple significant pieces of news over the last few days. The Red Sox finally got their man in J.D. Martinez, bringing an end to a long winter standstill, and another powerful bat the AL East. The Rays finally traded Jake Odorizzi, a move that felt like it’s been coming for several years now. And hey, even the Orioles got in on the action, bringing back Chris Tillman and hoping he can find his old form in Baltimore.

For the Blue Jays, the bulk of their offseason work has already been done for this year as they’ve brought in players like Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz, Curtis Granderson, Randal Grichuk, Jaime Garcia and more to help shore up their lineup. Aside from a few spring battles and maybe another cheap pick up or two, the Blue Jays should have their roster more or less in place, at least for 2018.

That’s where things get interesting for the Blue Jays, especially if we’re talking about the context of the last few days. It’s been no secret that Josh Donaldson‘s contract is coming to an end at the conclusion of the 2018 season, which has lead to trade speculation and/or extension talks throughout the entire winter. Many of us believed that he would likely get dealt this winter, and when that didn’t happen I know I personally felt some excitement at the possibility of legitimate extension talks taking place, especially if they wanted to hang on to the 2015 AL MVP at a time when several teams were calling.

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Alas, it doesn’t look like we’ll be celebrating an extension announcement any time soon, at least not after hearing Donaldson’s comments the other day when asked about the status of his contract. According to a tweet from Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae, Donaldson and his agent are shifting focus from those talks, and accepting that he’ll enter free agency next offseason. He even went as far as to simply respond, “Yes”, when asked if he expects to hit the open market.

I’ll readily admit that my initial reaction was one of frustration toward the front office, wondering how they could let an entire winter go by without getting him locked down for the foreseeable future. I’ve made arguments this winter that I believe he’ll be the perfect type of bridge star between this generation and the one on the way, and I really believe the Blue Jays would greatly benefit from extending him, even if he’s on the wrong side of thirty.

However, then I calmed down and started thinking about this offseason and how it’s changed the landscape of free agency, probably forever. Look no further than the five year, 110 million dollar contract just signed by J.D. Martinez. The 30 year old slugger entered the winter hoping to ink a contract in excess of 200 million dollars, and instead agreed to a deal worth little more than half of that. Granted, it comes with an opt-out clause in a couple years, but does anyone think Martinez will do better as a 32 year old free agent than he did this offseason? I sincerely doubt it, at least not without an overhaul to the agreement between the owners and the player’s union.

Which takes me back to Josh Donaldson and the following question: How much did this offseason harm his earning potential a year from now?

Maybe the market “corrects” itself, and you know there will be plenty of pressure from the player’s union to get things back to where we all expected they would be. However, it could just as easily (and more likely) be a case of a shift in thinking in baseball, and perhaps there was more truth to Ross Atkins’ words about free agency a few weeks ago than we realize when he addressed the topic at a Pitch Talks event in Toronto by saying as much.

"When you’re talking about free agency, you’re talking about older players. I think the industry is realizing that older players have been compensated, potentially – the player’s association and there are a few agents that would really be disappointed in hearing me say this – the aging curve has potentially been overcompensated in the past.That seems to be correcting a bit. However, all trends come to an end. – Ross Atkins,"

If we’re looking ahead at Donaldson’s case next winter, it’s definitely a complicated one. He’ll be 33, and also a part of a class that could include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, and many more. If J.D. Martinez had a hard time finding suitors this offseason, what are the elite free agents going to do when there are half a dozen or more seeking 25 million + contracts. This winter, Yu Darvish‘s contract has set the bar, and it’s a lot lower than anyone expected back in November.

So while it’s frustrating that there is no certainty around Josh Donaldson’s future in Toronto, I honestly think that’s okay, as long as the relationship between the club and player haven’t been damaged beyond repair. It’s important to make your star players feel wanted and respected, but it’s also important to be careful about who you’re handing out franchise record-setting contracts to. As much as I love watching “The Bringer of Rain” in Toronto, there were some serious market trends to pay attention to this winter, and by all accounts it appears Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have their eyes and ears wide open.

Let’s hope their patience doesn’t backfire down the line.

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