The Blue Jays had to place Josh Donaldson on the 10 day disabled list, a decision that he’d (and the team) hoped to avoid in his contract year before hitting free agency.
As baseball continues to evolve with the way it values talent, someone like Josh Donaldson has a very uncertain future when it comes to his earnings. Don’t get me wrong, the man will make good money regardless of what happens, but there are a ton of variables at play here.
At 32 right now, Donaldson will be 33 when he hits the open market as a free agent next offseason, assuming his contract isn’t extended before then. As one of the elite sluggers in the game, it’s entirely possible that the “Bringer of Rain” gets one of the biggest contracts on the market next year. If he re-signs in Toronto, there’s a good chance it’s for a franchise record setting contract.
However, there’s a chance that his market could end up being a tremendous disappointment. A lot can happen in a year of baseball, and while he’s considered among the best right now, there are some pretty short memories around the game, especially when the cheque book comes out. He’ll also have to contend with the likely free agency bidding on others like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and maybe even Clayton Kershaw.
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However, what could hurt Donaldson’s value more than anything is whether or not he can stay on the field this year. When he was healthy in 2017, he was an absolute monster at the plate, especially in the second half. For a GM to watch a performance like that would make it easy to offer a big contract to the former AL MVP. However, there’s another side to the story, one that includes some nagging injuries for Donaldson that have kept him from achieving his best.
Those nagging injuries could make a huge difference when it comes to how much he’ll earn in his next contract, and how long it might be. For example, you might remember the rumours that a still highly productive Jose Bautista had his eyes set on a 5-6 year deal in the 150 million dollar range at the age of 35, just two years older than Donaldson will be next winter. Fast forward two years later, and Bautista is a man still in search of a contract despite the season starting more than two weeks ago.
Another example comes in the form of teammate Troy Tulowitzki. At just 33 years old, his injuries have caught up with him to the point where fans are frequently calling for the team to cut him on social media. While that’s a little ill-informed, it’s not out of the realm of possibility at some point in the next year or two. This is a 5x All-Star who has received MVP votes in six different seasons, and was owed a guaranteed 58 million over the next three seasons when the year began.
Those recent lessons stick in the minds of baseball fans, and more importantly in those working in a big league front office. I don’t think anybody would dispute that Donaldson is still an elite hitter right now, but the big question will be how long he can keep it up. With that in mind, every game that’s missed because he’s on the DL will only serve to drive his price down.
When the discussion came up a year ago, something like six years and 150 million would have been considered a bargain. Now? I legitimately think the free agent and veteran perspective shifted enough with this past offseason, that Donaldson can’t afford to remind people of his injury history, regardless of how blown out of proportion it is. That doesn’t mean he should try to play through injury either, as he did through the few first weeks, but I can’t say I blame him for wanting to stay on the field, for his own good and for the good of the team.
The good news is that it sounds like there isn’t any additional structural damage, and hopefully a quick stint on the 10 day DL will be the cure for what ails him. However, everyone had hoped that his “dead arm” would work itself out with some rest and time spent at DH, so there are no guarantees for when he’ll get back to 100%. The only guarantee is that every day spent on the DL, is another point to the case against paying him as a free agent.