Blue Jays: Questions surround Josh Donaldson and his free agency

The Blue Jays’ early season struggles raise questions on Josh Donaldson’s free agency and the team’s competitive window.

Entering the season, most projection systems were high on the Blue Jays. FanGraphs, for example, pegged them to finish 86-76. That’s starting to feel like a pipe dream now. Sitting at 22-25, the Blue Jays are sliding out of wild card contention and quite noticeably losing their spirit. It’s difficult to predict where the Blue Jays record will normalize but certainly, they won’t compete for a wildcard spot if Josh Donaldson’s substandard play continues.

This season, Donaldson is slashing a meager .214/.310/.411 in 129 plate appearances. Most concerning though is his strikeout total. His 22.4% strikeout rate last season has ballooned to 28.6% rate this year. That seems like, and is a crazy number. Jose Bautista, in his notorious 2017 campaign didn’t even strike out that much.

Although, to Donaldson’s credit he is less than three weeks removed from a DL stint, and relies on his timing more than the average superstar. He deserves some more time to figure it out. If Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are instinctual hitters, Donaldson is a calculated hitter. He may take some time to find his swing, but when he does, a hot streak should follow. 

In any case, if the Blue Jays continue to lose, the promise of a retool becomes more desirable. If the front office decides to trade Donaldson you couldn’t really fault their approach. If they hang on to Donaldson there should be a real concern in handing him a “superstar” contract. Two specific concerns come to mind:

  1. Competitive Window. An offense centered around Anthony Alford, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Teoscar Hernandez is likely not good enough to compete next season. The same holds true for for the pitching staff. Does Ryan Borucki and Sean Reid-Foley joining the rotation in their rookie seasons really change the team’s outlook? In all likelihood, the competing window is a few years away. The front office needs to rationalize that fact alongside Donaldson’s future production. If the Blue Jays are good in three years, how crucial would Donaldson be to that success?

  • On-Field Fit. At this point in his career Donaldson only logs time at third base and DH. With Guerrero Jr. coming up through the ranks, retaining Donaldson guarantees zero flexibility between third base and DH. If you want to sneak somebody in at DH you are taking Donaldson off the field. In a league moving away from the everyday DH, Donaldson still deserves to be the exception. But it is important to acknowledge how little positional flexibility the Blue Jays would have.
  • Donaldson’s fit with the Blue Jays moving forward is not perfect. As for any rebuilding team, you don’t want veteran talent to supersede development. Donaldson is the typically the player you make exceptions for but his recent track record is slightly concerning. In his peak form, he is a game-changing hitter. You just can’t be sure he’ll hit that form consistently.

    The trade deadline will indicate how the Blue Jays sees themselves. Will they truck forward into their competitive window or will they take a breath, look around and retool? I’m not sure, but Josh Donaldson‘s future will do a good job answering that.

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