Blue Jays: While difficult, letting Josh Donaldson go was the right call
Seeing an old friend in Josh Donaldson has some Blue Jays fans wishing he was still kicking around, however, letting him go at that time back in 2018 was the right call.
I’ll acknowledge that the Blue Jays could use a reliable third baseman like him right now, and that he clearly still has plenty to offer a big league team even at 35 years old. However, it’s hard to imagine this Blue Jays team blossoming the way it did over the last three seasons if he had still been on the roster, and that’s not meant to be a slight to the 2015 MVP.
There are a few reasons I believe this to be the case, and it starts with the way the torch was handed over when Donaldson was traded in 2018. After having moved on from the likes of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, Donaldson was the last major link to those 2015-16 playoff teams that remained. While there were debates about keeping him around to bridge the rebuild gap, the Blue Jays ultimately decided to hand the reigns at third base to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at the time, and in a lot of ways, the keys to the clubhouse too.
Donaldson is known as a vocal leader, and though I’m sure he would have had a ton of wisdom to pass on to the current generation of Blue Jays, the energy in that clubhouse likely would have been a lot different. As it is the Jays have developed a clear bond in their dugout, and the kind of clubhouse dynamic that knits the group together. I believe that Vlad Jr. has a major impact on that positive atmosphere, and it would be a lot more difficult with a veteran like Donaldson still kicking around and patrolling the clubhouse as the unquestioned veteran leader.
Instead the Blue Jays have allowed their core to grow up together, to mistakes together, and to transform from pretenders into contenders. Regardless of how the 2021 regular season finishes up over the final two weeks, there’s no longer any doubt about whether these young Blue Jays are for real. They’ve been the talk of baseball for most of September as they’ve steamrolled their competition while looking like they’re having the time of their lives.
I don’t mean to paint a picture that veterans have a negative influence, and that’s certainly not the case in Toronto these days. That said, you get a sense that guys like George Springer and Marcus Semien are thinking more about fitting in than setting the clubhouse culture. I’m sure there are times when they let their wisdom speak, but from a fan sitting at home watching them this year, it looks to me like Vlad Jr. is the clubhouse leader and the face of the franchise. That wouldn’t have been an easy transition if Donaldson was around, even if the veteran recognized it.
And of course, if we’re talking about how the decision not the sign to Donaldson to an extension turned out to be correct, then we should probably talk about the money it would have required. I’m guessing it would have taken at least a five-year deal to retain him as a 32 year old, and he’s earned an average of 23 million per season since between the one-year deal he signed with Atlanta for the 2019 season, and the four-year, 92 million dollar pact he agreed to with the Twins two seasons ago. If the Jays had given him five years and 115 million at that time they’d still have two years remaining, and chances are that payroll commitment may have changed their ability to pursue guys like George Springer and Marcus Semien.
As with most decisions in major sports, you usually don’t know if it was the right one or not until years later. Now that we’re three seasons removed from Josh Donaldson moving on from the Blue Jays, it should be pretty clear that it was the right call for this young team. It saved them some money that they used to bring in other veterans over the last two seasons, and more importantly, gave Vlad Jr. the space he needed to turn into a superstar. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for Ross Atkins to let Donaldson head to another team, but it turned out to be the right one.