Blue Jays add Donaldson from A's for Lawrie, prospects
All-Star third baseman finished in top eight for AL MVP Award voting last two years
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' offseason took yet another surprise turn late Friday night, when the club acquired All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson from the A's in exchange for a four-player package headlined by Brett Lawrie.
Toronto pitching prospects Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin also were included in the trade, alongside promising Minor League infielder Franklin Barreto. The deal caught almost everyone in baseball off guard because Donaldson was considered untouchable, but the Blue Jays' persistence paid off.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos attempted to broach the subject of a Donaldson trade multiple times, but he was rebuked at every turn by his Oakland counterpart, Billy Beane. The A's stance finally changed this week, and the framework for a blockbuster trade was put in place.
"We didn't expect him to be available," Anthopoulos said during a conference call Friday night. "You don't really target guys with two years of service and four years of control. You just know the likelihood of getting those guys is so rare.
"We asked if there was any way they would talk about Donaldson, and Billy emphatically told me, no, he's not trading him. ... [A few weeks later,] I asked again, asked if there was any way we could make it appealing for him. It went back and forth, and I think when Brett was involved to replace Josh, that's when things started to move a little bit."
Donaldson is coming off an All-Star season that saw him post a .255/.342/.456 slash line in 158 games. He also added 29 home runs and 98 RBIs en route to an eighth-place finish in voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. One year earlier, Donaldson ranked fourth in that voting after an even better season, with a .301 average and an .883 OPS.
The trade was made not only for the present but also for the future. Donaldson is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, and as a Super Two player, he won't hit free agency until after 2018. He's projected to earn slightly more than $4 million this season, but the fact that Donaldson is under club control for so long made it easier to part ways with Lawrie and the group of prospects.
Donaldson had no idea a trade was coming and admitted he was "shocked" when informed of the news, but he said there are no hard feelings.
"Billy and I have a lot of respect for each other," Donaldson said. "As much as the A's play for the present, they definitely look to the future as well as any team in the league, and they felt like this is a deal they couldn't pass up."
Toronto traded away a lot of depth to acquire Donaldson, but the fact that the Blue Jays pulled off the deal without trading their top young pitchers -- Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez and Drew Hutchison -- likely will be considered a huge win for Anthopoulos. Lawrie will be missed, but the only prospect ranked in the top 10 by MLB.com was Barreto at No. 8.
Lawrie has been one of the Blue Jays' most prominent players since he was acquired prior to the 2011 season for right-hander Shaun Marcum. He made his Major League debut later that year and instantly became a fan favorite as one of the first Canadian stars to put on a Toronto uniform.
Expectations for Lawrie couldn't have been higher after he hit .293 with a .953 OPS and nine home runs during his first 43 games. He was frequently mentioned among the game's most promising young players, but his next three years were severely hampered by injuries. Lawrie never played more than 125 games, and while some of the mishaps were freak accidents, three strained oblique muscles over that span were concerning.
The injury history likely played a role in Toronto agreeing to the trade, but Anthopoulos insisted that was a scenario he wanted to avoid. The Blue Jays didn't want to include Lawrie, but they realized it was the only way a deal could get done.
"We were going to have to be more than impressed with what they had to offer, and Alex got to that point, and that's when we made the deal," Beane said. "We wouldn't have done it unless all four of these guys were in the deal, and each guy represents sort of a need, some of them immediate."
Nolin and Graveman were rather expendable because of Toronto's depth on the mound. The Blue Jays have R.A. Dickey, Stroman, Mark Buehrle, Hutchison and J.A. Happ in their projected rotation. Sanchez and Norris also are core pieces of the future, and that didn't leave much long-term growth for either pitcher headed to Oakland.
Nolin, 24, was ranked the No. 12 prospect in Toronto's system by MLB.com. He's a finesse-type pitcher who has battled injuries the past two seasons. Nolin was a September callup, but he appeared in just one game, after posting a 3.50 ERA in 17 starts for Triple-A Buffalo.
Graveman essentially came out of nowhere in 2014. The eighth-round pick from the 2012 Draft began the season in Class A Lansing, but he went through each level of Toronto's system, and by September, he was with the big league club. Graveman projects as a back-end starter or a potential middle reliever.
Barreto is the top prospect in the deal going to Oakland. The 18-year-old was ranked the No. 2 prospect in the 2012 international free-agent class by MLB.com after experiencing a lot of success in Venezuela. He was recently named one of Toronto's Webster Award winners after hitting .311 with 33 extra-base hits and a .384 on-base percentage for low Class A Vancouver.
"We wanted to keep Brett and add to the team," Anthopoulos said. "We really liked Donaldson, we wanted to get him. Those were the players they needed, those were the players they wanted. As much as you don't want to part with those guys, you're going to have to give up some pretty good players to get a guy like Donaldson. It takes time to come to terms with that I guess when you're on the other side."