We’ve always wondered how tough turf really is on Blue Jays’ players. Now that Josh Donaldson says he feels better already, 2019 could tell us a lot about the effects of playing at the Rogers Centre.
One of the more annoying but necessary arguments among Blue Jays fans is the turf that has been at the Rogers Centre since it was opened. For those of you that don’t remember, there was a time when the “Skydome” was shared by the Blue Jays and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian football League, so the turf was a necessity in order to keep both leagues going in the same building.
The Argonauts have since moved on, which re-opened the debate a couple years ago about whether the Blue Jays should look to install natural grass on their field. There have been viability studies done, and numerous debates among various different leadership groups in Toronto. It’s been talked about a lot, but so far not a whole lot has been done toward actually making a change.
The significance of the turf has always been debated, especially when it comes to how difficult it is for Blue Jay players to spend 81 home games on the field. Guys like Canadian-born Brett Lawrie have infamously complained that it was tough on his body, and that it might even be a cause of why he struggled to stay healthy as an active player. One other player has voiced his concerns pretty loudly over the years as well, the recently departed Josh Donaldson.
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The “Bringer of Rain” was asked about the turf in Toronto recently, and he mentioned that he felt better even in a short stint in Cleveland. You could take those comments with a grain of salt for a couple reasons, but it’s probably a situation the Blue Jays should pay attention to, especially with their former MVP third baseman.
Donaldson’s primary injury concern while he wore a Blue Jay uniform was with his calves, which frequently tightened up on him and caused him to either miss games, or spend time as the designated hitter. He had other injuries too, but the calves on both legs caused him problems, and I’m confident that he would say the turf was a significant cause of that issue for him, especially over the last couple of seasons.
He managed to play in just 36 games in Toronto before he was traded last season, and was limited to 113 in 2017. He was extremely productive in the 2nd half of the 2017 season, but otherwise the last two years have been largely a disappointment.
However, let’s say that Donaldson comes roaring back in 2019 with his new team in Atlanta. Imagine he’s an MVP candidate again, hitting 35-40 home runs, driving in 100, and hitting .280 or better at the plate. What will we think if he plays in 155+ games as he did every season from 2013-16? Donaldson has already said that working with his former trainer in George Poulis already factored into his decision because, “they know how to keep me on the field”.
It makes me wonder if ownership or Mark Shapiro will re-evaluate the significance that turf might be playing on their player’s bodies. It’s too late for it to matter for Donaldson right now, but how does that effect other future veterans once they get past the age of 30? Will they be able to convince veteran free agents to come to Toronto to play on the turf, or will they even want to? The more important question might be: Will it limit the Blue Jays’ ability to retain future stars?
With an elite minor league system that boasts potential stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and others, a nightmare scenario is to see them walk later in their careers for the sake of their long term health. I’m talking about a lot of “what ifs” with several variables here, but what if Vlad Jr. struggles to stay healthy through parts of the first six or seven years of his career, and decides to go play somewhere that’s easier on his body? Would that not be a gigantic loss worth taking note of?
Having Donaldson leave when the franchise is on the cusp of a rebuild, and who have a potential superstar replacement at his position, makes sense even if it’s tough to swallow. However, the Blue Jays need to make sure that they don’t gloss over what Donaldson is saying here, and more importantly, what he does next year with the Braves. You know that other players and their agents will be paying attention to how his season goes, and it could be a real factor in the future.
While one might be inclined to selfishly hope that Donaldson’s regression continues so we can say, “see it wasn’t the turf!”, I can’t do that. I’d much rather see a former beloved Blue Jay thrive with his new team, especially since they’re not in the American League, or in the AL East. Secondly, if Donaldson’s success helps contribute to the Blue Jays ultimately making a good decision for their facility and the players who play there, then so be it. There could be a lot to learn from seeing how his body responds to the change.