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Donaldson declines Braves' qualifying offer

@mlbbowman
November 14, 2019

ATLANTA -- After Josh Donaldson spent the summer flirting with another 40-homer season and restoring his elite value, it became apparent that the Braves would extend him a qualifying offer and he would subsequently reject it. So what did it mean when Donaldson rejected the Braves’ one-year, $17.8 million qualifying

ATLANTA -- After Josh Donaldson spent the summer flirting with another 40-homer season and restoring his elite value, it became apparent that the Braves would extend him a qualifying offer and he would subsequently reject it.

So what did it mean when Donaldson rejected the Braves’ one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s 5 p.m. ET deadline?

If a player rejects the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, the club he left will receive Draft pick compensation and the club that signs him will forfeit a Draft pick -- and in some cases, multiple picks. The value of those picks varies based on whether the clubs receive (or pay into) revenue sharing and whether the player’s new contract exceeds $50 million (full explanation here).

In other words, the Braves had to make the qualifying offer in order to position themselves for potential compensation. Donaldson had to reject it to allow himself to continue pursuing the lucrative multiyear contract that injuries prevented him from receiving before he signed a one-year, $23 million deal with Atlanta last winter.

Now we’ll wait to see whether the 33-year-old Donaldson chooses to return to the Braves or opts to extend his career elsewhere.

The fact that the Rangers, Nationals and Dodgers are among the teams that have reportedly already shown interest in Donaldson comes as no surprise. The 2015 American League MVP Award winner hit 37 homers and produced a .900 OPS this past season. That kind of production leads to strong demand.

But it remains to be seen how much and, more importantly, how long potential suitors would be willing to commit to Donaldson, who turns 34 in December.

Donaldson will certainly receive at least a two-year offer worth approximately $25 million per year that would include an option for 2022. But when you account for the expected demand, it seems wiser to predict that he is likely to end up with a guaranteed three-year offer. If a four-year offer is made, it would likely come from an AL club, which could account for the option of occasionally using him as a designated hitter to preserve his legs and possibly extend optimal output.

There’s no doubt the Braves would like to reunite with Donaldson, who spent this past season distancing himself from the concerns that developed when a left calf strain cost him much of the 2018 season. He played 155 games and served as the starting third baseman in all but three of Atlanta’s last 112 games.

Donaldson ranked 10th in the National League with a 4.9 fWAR (Fangraphs’ WAR Model). He joined AL MVP finalists Mike Trout and Alex Bregman as the only players to hit 35 homers and draw 100 walks this season.

Along with proving that he remains one of the game’s top offensive threats, Donaldson provided Gold Glove-caliber defense. He easily led NL third basemen with 15 Defensive Runs Saved. The Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and the D-backs’ Eduardo Escobar ranked second with eight apiece.

If the Braves don’t re-sign Donaldson, they could pursue another third baseman, or possibly give Johan Camargo that role at the start of next season. Mike Moustakas would be deemed the only potential fit among free-agent third basemen.

There’s a chance the Braves would attempt to replace Donaldson’s power with the acquisition of an outfielder. But the free-agent market at that position is also thin beyond Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos.

With limited options available via free agency, the Braves could end up trading for a power bat. But the preference would be to re-sign Donaldson, who was a great fit on and off the field in Atlanta in 2019.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.