With the Blue Jays set to open a series with the Atlanta Brave, I thought it might be fun to compare both team’s third basemen, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and former Blue Jay, Josh Donaldson.
The Blue Jays have made a lot of difficult decisions in the last couple of seasons, mostly when it comes to moving on from beloved franchise veterans. Edwin Encarnacion was out after 2016, Jose Bautista after 2017, and others like Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki were moved during the last offseason.
With the exception of Encarnacion, many of the players that helped lead them to the playoffs in 2015 and 2016 are no longer anywhere near as productive as they were back then, which was part of why the Blue Jays’ front office didn’t want to keep them around. Encarnacion wasn’t the only exception though, as Josh Donaldson was traded in August of last year, and he’s still putting up some pretty good numbers.
When you look at how Donaldson has performed this year, there’s a knee-jerk reaction to feel frustrated that the Blue Jays don’t have his production in their lineup anymore. I don’t blame you if you still feel underwhelmed with the return they got for him (Julian Merryweather, who has yet to get himself fully healthy), but I’m willing to say on record that I’m glad he’s not in Toronto anymore, even if he’s still a productive player.
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That’s because the Blue Jays have a pretty solid third baseman of their own named Vladimir Guerrero Jr., among other reasons.
That’s not to disrespect Donaldson at all, as there was a time that I wanted to see the Blue Jays re-sign him, and possibly turn him into a part-time first baseman in order make a coexistence with Vlad Jr. work out. However, hindsight is 20/20, and I believe the Blue Jays made the right decision to move on from the “Bringer of Rain”, even if I was a big fan of his while he was in Toronto.
However, the Blue Jays are blessed to have one the best young hitters in baseball starting to blossom before their eyes, and there’s little doubt that the next generation of this team will be built around Guerrero Jr. and Bichette. That said, let’s have a look at how Guerrero Jr. compares to the All-Star who proceeded him at the hot corner in Toronto.
.278/.351/.469, 15 HR, 23 doubles, 57 RBI, in 99 games. 2.1 bWAR, 0.9 fWAR
.265/.379/.538, 32 HR, 29 doubles. 76 RBI in 128 games, 4.5 bWAR, 4.0 fWAR
Looking at those numbers, I’ll readily admit that Josh Donaldson has been the more valuable over the course of the entire 2019 season, especially when you include the defensive numbers that I’ve left out here for these purposes (Donaldson is FAR superior at this point). However, there are a few things to consider, and reasons why Blue Jays fans shouldn’t let any of those numbers bother you in the slightest.
First, we have to remember that Guerrero Jr. started his season late because of a trip to the IL, and spending a bit of time in the minor leagues before his debut. He’s played in 29 less games than Donaldson, and that makes a big difference in some of those numbers.
Secondly, don’t forget that the Braves signed the 33-year-old Donaldson to a one year contract, which means he’ll hit the free agent market again this winter unless he receives an extension. He was also paid 23 million dollars to help the Braves chase a World Series title this year, and Vlad Jr. is on a rookie contract. That said, I don’t care about how Rogers spends their money, and I’m sure you don’t care much either.
The part that really makes me feel good about any Vlad Jr. vs. Donaldson talk is how things have looked lately. Or putting it a different way, how the Blue Jays’ young phenom compares since he unlocked his potential and really started performing. Let’s use the 2nd half of the season as the measuring stick.
.324/.389/.556, 7 HR, 10 doubles, 32 RBI
.295/.417/.631, 14 HR, 8 doubles, 31 RBI
Yes, I’m aware that Donaldson has bested him in most categories here again, but let’s look at it another way. The Braves’ veteran is on a run that puts him in the discussion for the most dangerous second-half hitters in the National League, and the Blue Jays’ rookie is basically keeping pace with him, at least on offence. All of this is happening while the Braves are in a heated playoff race, and the Blue Jays are playing out a rebuilding season.
My goal in writing this article wasn’t to convince you that Donaldson was a bum that the Blue Jays were lucky to get rid of. If that was my point then obviously I have failed miserably. On the contrary, I wanted people to see how well our beloved Vlad Jr. is already stacking up to a guy like Donaldson, which is remarkable when you consider that he’s just 20 years old, and veteran is theoretically still at the end of his prime.
It’s hard to say what the future holds for Donaldson with his next contract, but he’s sure to make a lot more than whatever Vlad will make in the near-term, even if the Blue Jays sign him to a new deal before he ever hits arbitration. And as time goes on, likely as soon as next season, Vlad Jr. will far surpass what the former Blue Jay MVP is able to do on the field, and for a fraction of the price.
For now, it’s good to see Donaldson staying healthy, and performing well to help the Braves push for a playoff spot. However, even with the potential for him to win a “Comeback Player of the Year” award, I still think the Blue Jays made the right decision to let him go.