After the Nationals traded Daniel Murphy to the Cubs on Tuesday for peanuts, the Blue Jays may have to give up hope of getting a decent return for Josh Donaldson.
Tuesday brought some big news on the trade front, something that we don’t always see in August. The Nationals reportedly put a few of their star players on the waiver wire now that we’re nearing the end of the month, which included Bryce Harper, who was claimed and then pulled back without a deal.
Another big name did move though, as Daniel Murphy was shipped to the Chicago Cubs. The Cubbies put a claim in on the veteran infielder, and it was a little surprising that he slipped all the way to them in the process. That said, once they had made their claim the Nationals could only deal with them, or pull back their impending free agent. Unlike in the case of Harper, who the Nationals are going to press hard to re-sign this winter, letting Murphy go for a return made sense, even if it was a modest one.
The return was indeed modest, as the Nationals received minor league INF Andruw Monasterio, and either cash or a player to be named later. Considering Murphy is a 3x All-Star, a 2x Silver Slugger, and finished second in NL MVP voting in 2016, it’s definitely a disappointing exchange for Washington, even if the deal came in August. Monasterio has played this season in Class-A, and while he’s just 21, he wasn’t rated among the top 30 prospects in the Cubs’ system.
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What does this have to do with the Blue Jays? Well, take a look at the above description of Murphy, and ask yourself if there is a Blue Jay with a similar list of accomplishments.
Josh Donaldson‘s career resume is slightly more accomplished, but not by a whole lot. He did win the AL MVP award the year before Murphy finished second in the senior circuit, and he’s earned MVP votes in five different seasons. Like Murphy though, he is a 3x All-Star and a 2x Silver Slugger award winner, and there is less than a year in age difference, as Murphy is already 33.
What closes the gap between the two players in terms of trade value would be the questionable health of the Blue Jays slugger. Donaldson still doesn’t have a guaranteed return date, and it’s looking less and less likely that could be before the end of the month. He’s been seen running the bases on social media, but the team didn’t have an update for him when they gave us similar word on other injured veterans.
In fact, if you’re comparing Donaldson to Murphy at this stage, one could easily argue that the latter is more valuable to a contender for the remainder of the 2019 season, simply because he’s healthy right now. The Cubs wanted Murphy to play third base and to cover for the injury to their own Kris Bryant, something they could have called the Blue Jays about if they believed Donaldson was a real option to help them. Murphy can also move around more than the Blue Jays slugger if and when Bryant returns, but I’m sure the Cubs would have given it a harder look if Donaldson was on the active roster right now.
What’s really relevant here though is the return that the Cubs sent to Washington, which will definitely be used as a comparison if the Blue Jays are able to trade Donaldson in the next week or so. Even if a team believes that he can be healthy enough to make a difference in September and in the playoffs, why would they pay more than the Cubs just did for Murphy? Maybe the American League waiver system is slightly different in terms of need, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Blue Jays can only deal with the one team that makes a claim. The leverage is gone.
The debate has already started about whether the Blue Jays will offer Donaldson the qualifying offer this offseason, or just let him walk without any compensation. Since he’s not even scheduled for a rehab game yet, it’s looking less and less likely that Ross Atkins will be able to move him before the waiver trade deadline, and that the front office will have a decision to make this winter. For what it’s worth, I do think it’s still a smart decision to make that offer, but I don’t get to make those decisions.
If that does change in the next week, sadly the precedent set on Tuesday likely means that the Blue Jays would be better off hanging on to him, unless they really don’t want to extend a qualifying offer to their former MVP. My how things can change in a year or two.