ATLANTA -- Considering Josh Donaldson spent much of this decade serving as a chief threat to Mike Trout's annual MVP bid, there's certainly reason to anticipate him becoming the Braves' best free agent acquisition since Greg Maddux came to Atlanta.But to gain this distinction, Donaldson must re-establish himself as the
ATLANTA -- Considering Josh Donaldson spent much of this decade serving as a chief threat to Mike Trout's annual MVP bid, there's certainly reason to anticipate him becoming the Braves' best free agent acquisition since Greg Maddux came to Atlanta.
But to gain this distinction, Donaldson must re-establish himself as the offensive monster he was before a right calf strain sidelined him for most of the first two months of 2017 and a left calf strain forced him to miss most of last season.
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"People say, 'He's been hurt' and I'm like, 'It was one year,'" Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "The guy has like a .950 OPS for four straight years and a MVP. I can't wait. He's going to be a huge lift. He's healthy and ready to go. So, I don't see why he can't be Josh Donaldson again."
When the Braves open Spring Training next week, their bid to defend their National League East crown will be significantly influenced by whether Donaldson is capable of reestablishing himself as one of baseball's elite superstars.
Donaldson hit .282, belted 164 homers, compiled a .901 OPS and produced a 36.1 bWAR (Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement model) from 2013-17. The only other players with a bWAR of at least 30 within this five-year stretch were Trout (43.1) and Paul Goldschmidt (30.9). Trout was also the only other Major Leaguer to hit at least .280 with 150-plus homers and a .900 OPS over the course of these years.
Had Donaldson been a free agent last winter, he likely would have gained a lucrative multi-year contract that would have provided him financial certainty into his late 30s. But after the calf injury limited him to 52 games (16 after May 28) last year, he accepted the one-year, $23 million deal that reunites him with Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
While serving as the Blue Jays' GM, Anthopoulos acquired Donaldson from the A's. Their only season together proved to be quite memorable, as the third baseman won the American League MVP Award and Toronto advanced to the AL Championship Series.
"The number one priority was getting what we thought was a guy who could be a middle-of-the-order type of bat," Anthopoulos said. "We weren't looking for a third baseman. We just wanted a big bat with power. Then, you start factoring in the way he plays, the way he prepares, the example he sets, the edge he brings and how tough he is. He's just going to make players around him better."
Braves manager Brian Snitker is currently leaning toward filling the first four spots of his lineup in this order: Ender Inciarte, Donaldson, Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. Donaldson has four top-10 MVP finishes within the past six years and Freeman has three. They team with the 20-year-old Acuna to give Atlanta a fearsome trio of potential MVP candidates for the upcoming season.
Provided a chance to play closer to his Auburn, Ala., home and for the team he loved throughout his childhood, Donaldson will attempt to reignite his career while feeding off the intense warrior-like personality that inspired his Twitter handle: @BringerofRain20.
Donaldson chose the handle after watching a Starz series titled Spartacus: Bringer of Rain. Spartacus' victory over a legendary gladiator in one episode leads to the end of a long drought in his land.
Now in Atlanta, Donaldson will attempt to end a drought that extends back to 1995, when he was a 10-year-old kid who rejoiced the night a David Justice homer was enough to support Tom Glavine's World Series Game 6 masterpiece.
"It's going to be nice having the Bringer of Rain on our team," Freeman said.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.