Blue Jays: Josh Donaldson and Vlad Guerrero Jr can, and might co-exist next season

TORONTO, ON - MAY 12: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after fouling a ball off his leg in the first inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre on May 12, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 12: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after fouling a ball off his leg in the first inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre on May 12, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

With it looking unlikely that Josh Donaldson is moved before the non-waiver trade deadline, it’s possible he could be back in 2019, and co-exist with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The Blue Jays were and are expected to be among the bigger sellers before this year’s non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, but injuries have definitely put a dent in what they’ve been able to accomplish.

Beyond the highly discussed J.A. Happ rumours, the Blue Jays have plenty of other veterans on expiring contracts that would make sense to move. It’s possible we see guys like Curtis Granderson or Seunghwan Oh dealt in the next couple of weeks, and the same could happen to Marco Estrada if he can prove he’s healthy before the end of the month. If the front office was entertaining trading Kevin Pillar, they can forget about that now, even with a couple more years of team control on his contract.

One player the Blue Jays are going to have a nearly impossible time moving for fair value would be Josh Donaldson. As fans of the team and the “Bringer of Rain” know, Donaldson can be one of the best hitters in baseball, and a valuable defender when he’s a regular in the lineup. He won the AL MVP in 2015, and put up solid numbers in both 2016, and 2017. Unfortunately it’s been a much different story this year.

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We’ve talked about it a fair amount here at Jays Journal, and that’s because it’s an unfortunate missed opportunity for the Blue Jays. The thought was that they would hang on to their best offensive player and hope for a better 2018 season, but instead it’s been a disaster for the player personally, and for the club in the standings. Instead of trading him for what could have been a potentially huge return this past winter, the Blue Jays have little to no leverage now.

Because of the way things have played out, I think it’s entirely possible we see Donaldson back in Toronto next season. I’m not expecting the two sides to work out a long term agreement, as I’m not sure the club is interested in such a thing right now, and Donaldson and his agent would be re-upping at an all-time low in player value. I do think it’s possible that a one year deal could be worked out between the two sides, if it doesn’t come to Donaldson agreeing to the qualifying offer that the Blue Jays will surely designate him with.

That contract was worth 17.4 million in 2018, and there’s a good chance it’ll fall somewhere between 18-19 million for 2019. While that was an unthinkable contract for the star third baseman a few months ago, it’s not out of the realm of possibility now that this season has become a comedy of errors. Add in the fact that the free agent market drastically changed this past year for stars on the wrong side of 30, and Donaldson isn’t guaranteed the riches we all once expected he’d receive. I think it’s more likely the two sides work out a one year deal separately if were to return, but this is also a possible scenario if you ask me.

I could go on about this whole contract thing for quite awhile, but that’s not the central discussion point I’d like to make today. Instead, let’s talk about how a possible Donaldson return should have little to no impact on Vladimir Guerrero Jr‘s timeline to the big leagues.

Yes, I’m aware they play the same position, and the Blue Jays had that as a ready made excuse to keep him in the minor leagues this year, assuming Donaldson had been healthy of course. Even then, the presence of Yangervis Solarte provided big league calibre depth, so the pressure to promote the young phenom wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It also looks like the Blue Jays would like to keep Guerrero at third base, at least until he proves he can’t handle it defensively. He’s been average to above-average in Double-A this year when healthy, but the big leagues could be a different story.

The thing is, Guerrero is almost assuredly going to end up at the highest level before his glove is fully developed due to his advanced hitting. The front office may be able to justify keeping him in the minors for the rest of this season, and even for a few weeks into next year (to extend his contract control), but beyond that it’s going to become nearly impossible to hold him back. In that case, giving him a mentor like Donaldson to split time at 3B/DH wouldn’t hurt his development one bit, and would take a lot of the defensive pressure off of him at such a young age.

In the scenario where Donaldson returns to Toronto, I have a hard time seeing him objecting to more time at DH, even if he’s trying to re-establish his value. The opportunity to stay off of the turf and his bulky calves could keep him in the lineup with more regularity, and at 32 years old there is little doubt he can still produce when he’s healthy.

It’s also possible that one or both of Donaldson and Guerrero Jr could end up being considered for first base in 2019. I’m not entirely sure Donaldson would be sold on that, and it could require a long term contract for him to give up third base while on a bridge contract. That said, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility either. In Guerrero’s case, I think it’s even more likely, depending on how he performs at third for the remainder of this year.

He’s looked defensively capable at the hot corner so far, but at 19 he’s already got a husky build, and a body frame that isn’t exactly typical of a defensive star. That’s not to criticize him, or suggest that he’s out of shape by any means, because that’s not it at all. He’s just one of those guys that is naturally huge, which doesn’t exactly harm his production in the batter’s box. I do think the franchise will look to keep him at third as long as possible, but if he were to spend some time between 3B/1B/DH next year, that could make the scenario with Donaldson work as well.

I realize that the Blue Jays have Kendrys Morales under contract for 2019 as their designated hitter, and Justin Smoak has a no-doubt option on his contract as the first baseman, but I’m not sure that either player would get in the way of the long term plans. Morales has turned things around from his dreadful start to the year, but I don’t think that’ll be enough for the team to keep him around next season, especially in the midst of a rebuild. Smoak could be a different story, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was dealt before the trade deadline, or sometime this offseason.

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This is all just speculation on my part, and I really have no idea what Donaldson or the Blue Jays have in mind for their partnership beyond this year. If this season’s circumstances bring him back to Toronto on a short term deal, fans needn’t worry about that holding back the number one prospect in baseball. A player as good as Guerrero will arrive on his own timeline, and there are ways to make it work with both third baseman in the lineup. In fact, I think it would be a ton of fun to watch.