Why the Blue Jays kept Donaldson at Deadline

Toronto makes handful of moves in July, but star 3B not among them

August 1st, 2018
Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson stands in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Sunday, May 27, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)Derik Hamilton/AP

OAKLAND -- Josh Donaldson was supposed to be the Blue Jays' biggest trade chip this summer, but as the Tuesday afternoon's non-waiver Trade Deadline came and went, his status remained unchanged.

Toronto general manager Ross Atkins traded six players in July and brought back 10 more, but Donaldson stayed put. The three-time All-Star is continuing to rehab a strained left calf muscle in Dunedin, Fla., with eyes on an August return.

Atkins confirmed that the Blue Jays discussed Donaldson with other teams, but it doesn't appear as though a trade ever got close. Toronto's hope is that could change at some point this month after Donaldson returns to the lineup and shows he's healthy enough to contribute to a contender.

"Josh is a great player, and I think any GM would be excited about thinking about Josh in their lineup and playing third base down the stretch," Atkins said. "There were a lot of discussions. The challenge is, with any player that is not playing, is understanding that risk and that timeline, with not the same access to information that we have.

"The tolerance for that risk was the hard part to try and bridge. We had a lot of discussions about JD. We stayed in touch with Josh obviously, but it didn't end up becoming a deal."

Donaldson hasn't played since May 28 when he limped off the field at Fenway Park after trying to run first to third. At the time, the injury was supposed to require just the minimum 10-day absence, but two months have since come and gone with no sign of the former American League Most Valuable Player on the field.

The 32-year-old has been slowly working his way through Toronto's rehab program at the Minor League complex. He has been hitting and fielding groundballs for weeks but running continued to be a problem. That has finally started to change in recent days, which means Donaldson's return shouldn't be too far off.

"I think this week will be very telling, and we'll have a much better update for you in the upcoming days," Atkins said. "He had his best week last week. A lot of explosive exercises and really, really encouraged by the progress he has made.

"I think he is nearing 100 percent in strength. The thing with JD, just because of where he is and how he has matured in his career, he's not going to need a long rehab assignment. He's not going to need or want or desire many Minor League at-bats. I think once he gets up to 100 percent of that strength, and nearing that, things will move quickly."

With Donaldson on the shelf, Atkins focused his attention on Toronto's other trade assets. Veteran Steve Pearce was the first player to move in an early July trade with Boston, and in the days leading up to July 31, lefty J.A. Happ was sent to the Yankees, reliever went to the Rockies and suspended closer was acquired by the Astros. The final pieces were sent out just before the Deadline, when was traded to the Dodgers and lefty went to Philadelphia.

In return for one of the biggest July sales in franchise history, the Blue Jays acquired reliever , infielder and eight Minor League prospects. Per MLB Pipeline, the Blue Jays acquired four prospects -- RHP Hector Perez (No. 11), OF (No. 19), RHP (No. 20) and OF Forrest Wall (No. 26) -- who found their way into the club's Top 30 prospects.

The goal was to acquire more young talent that will support the next wave of Blue Jays talent as the club prepares for the eventual arrival of top prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

"I think our system has gone from the bottom third to the upper quartile in two years, and over the last month, it might have surged even higher than that," Atkins said. "Guys from the draft are performing well, guys from our international acquisitions are performing well, and then, adding these 10 pieces were extremely exciting.

"We're going to have a lot of opportunities to consider over the offseason to optimize and sync up our young talent with the right complementary pieces."