SAN DIEGO -- Given the possibility Josh Donaldson might end up with the team that is willing to offer a fourth guaranteed season, the Braves are among the potential suitors attempting to project his value for both the next three and four seasons.
As Donaldson spent this year re-establishing himself as one of the game's most valuable players, he hit 37 homers and ranked 10th in the National League with 4.9 fWAR. He stands with fellow third baseman Anthony Rendon as the top two position players on this year's free agent market.
Still, when evaluating the 34-year-old Donaldson, the Braves, Nationals, Rangers, Phillies and other possible suitors have to question how long they are willing to give him approximately $25 million per season. The 2015 American League MVP produced MLB's second-best fWAR (40.6) and ranked sixth with a 140 OPS+ from '13-'19.
Donaldson's tremendous success over the past seven seasons has earned him the significant average annual value he will receive with his next contract. But the length of the deal will be determined by the comfort level teams find as they analyze historical data while recognizing no two bodies, careers or personalities have ever been identical.
If attempting to find historical comparisons for Donaldson, you can look at the fact he stands with Mike Schmidt (157), Alex Rodriguez (150), Wade Boggs (150) and Eddie Mathews (145) as the only third basemen (min. 4000 plate appearances and 80 percent of appearances as a third baseman) to ever produce a 140 OPS+ from age 27 to age 33.
Here's a look at what those four third basemen did three and four years beyond their respective 33-year-old seasons:
OPS+ next 3 seasons: Schmidt 152, Rodriguez 118, Boggs 111, Mathews 109
OPS+ next 4 seasons: Schmidt 150, Rodriguez 117, Boggs 113, Mathews (Retired after 36-year-old season)
Average games played over next 4 seasons: Schmidt 154, Boggs 127, Rodriguez 100.5
"With human beings you can't have one rule," Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "I think you try to weigh it all. You're still going to make mistakes and be wrong."
As Anthopoulos has attempted to gather as much information as possible, he recently asked Braves legend Chipper Jones when he began to feel like he was wearing down.
Jones did not fit into the above group because he spent a portion of his age 27-33 year-old seasons playing left field. But it's certainly worth noting that Jones produced a 148 OPS+ during that specific seven-season stretch and then continued to excel while producing a 153 OPS+ from 2006-09, which consisted of his age 34 through age 37 seasons.
No third baseman (min. 1500 plate appearances) has produced a higher OPS+ than Jones did within those ages.
If Donaldson were to mirror the career finishes enjoyed by both Schmidt and Jones, he would be worth every penny of the gamble a team would take by offering him a fourth season. If he were to decline like Rodriguez, Boggs and Mathews, he would still likely be an above-average offensive asset whose overall value would be influenced by his bid to continue being a plus defender.
Like other potential suitors, the Braves don't know what Donaldson will provide over the next three or four seasons. But they do know that an unsuccessful attempt to re-sign Donaldson could result in him signing with the division rival Nationals and possibly being a thorn in Atlanta's side for the next four years.