It seems to be the question on every Blue Jays fans minds after the injury-plagued disappointment of a season just past — will the team sign third baseman and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson to a long-term contract this off-season? And if not, what are the consequences if they don’t?
Donaldson will be 32 in December, and it’s hard to see the team wanting to go past a four-year deal at this point, especially given his recent injury history. Would $100 million be in order? If so, would it be enough to get a deal done with Donaldson, who has publicly voiced a desire to stay in Toronto (the right thing to do from a strictly PR perspective.)
I think the bigger question for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins is this — what do they want this team to look like in 2019? Will they consider the competitive window closed after this season, and look to start infusing young talent into the lineup? (Some advice to them on this: if this is your plan, you need to start communicating it soon to manage expectations).
I frankly don’t think team brass is settled on the question given the meteoric minor league rise of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. this year (also a third baseman – for now). While some don’t expect him to make a major league roster until 2020, some believe he could arrive much sooner. If the latter is what the team believes, it may make them reluctant to commit to Donaldson right now. And if that’s the case, do they end up in another Edwin Encarnacion situation where the moment passes, and both sides part ways even though that isn’t what either side really wanted?
The trouble with locking up Donaldson for multiple years at what he’s actually worth is it will tie the organization’s hands budget-wise until Russ Martin (due $20M in 2018 and 2019) and Troy Tulowitzki’s contracts come off the books (Tulowitzki is due the same, plus $14M in 2020 and $15M in 2021). You’re looking at $60 million-plus tied up in three players through 2019, potentially $40 million in two players through 2021. Will fans understand if the Blue Jays move on from Donaldson to give them more flexibility in 2019 and beyond? Again, managing expectations now is crucial for this organization.
I believe it’s better to invest in the asset you know than the asset (read prospect) you don’t. There’s no reason to think Josh Donaldson’s production won’t remain at an elite level until he’s 35. The fans love his style of play and intensity, and they’ll continue to pay to see him every night. And hey, Vlad Jr. can still learn a new position (first base is open after 2018!), or be packaged up to help the Jays make a deep playoff run if all goes right next season. From both a business and competitive standpoint, it makes sense that Donaldson should be given the same chance Bautista and Encarnacion had to become all-time Blue Jays. An interesting winter lies ahead.