ATLANTA -- While Johan Camargo spent the past two years establishing himself as a legit Major Leaguer with upside, Josh Donaldson has spent most of the past six years producing at American League Most Valuable Player Award-winning levels.By signing Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal, the Braves have at
ATLANTA -- While Johan Camargo spent the past two years establishing himself as a legit Major Leaguer with upside, Josh Donaldson has spent most of the past six years producing at American League Most Valuable Player Award-winning levels.
By signing Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal, the Braves have at least temporarily halted Camargo's status as an everyday member of their lineup. But more importantly, they have added much-needed power to their batting order, enhanced the potential value of their previously-thin bench and created some clarity regarding other offseason needs.
"We couldn't have found a better fit for this club," Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "He really was the key guy for us in the offseason. We were pretty determined to get a deal done."
One day shy of the four-year anniversary of when he brought Donaldson to Toronto via a trade with Oakland, Anthopoulos welcomed Donaldson to SunTrust Park on Tuesday morning to introduce the third baseman as the newest member of a Braves club that seems capable of building upon this year's division-winning success.
"Coming into the offseason, I knew there was a possibility of Alex and I linking back up and being part of the Braves," Donaldson said. "He made it very clear early on this is what he envisioned, and he was going to do his very best to do that. Here we are today. I'm very thrilled."
Having grown up in Florida and Alabama as a Braves fan who adopted Ron Gant as his first favorite player, this is a dream come true for Donaldson, who is confident he can bounce back from his injury-wrecked 2018 season and re-establish himself as one of the game's most feared hitters. From '15-17, he averaged 37 homers per season and ranked fifth among all Major Leaguers with a .946 OPS.
"Without a doubt, I still feel like I'm that type of player," Donaldson said. "I'm not really concerned about anything more than today. I'm focused on being the best I can be for this organization."
Lack of confidence has never been a concern regarding Donaldson, who responded to a question about switching leagues by saying, "Check my numbers against the National League." Anthopoulos responded by smiling and saying, "He hasn't changed a bit."
Donaldson earned the AL MVP Award in 2015, his first season with Toronto and Anthopoulos' last as the Blue Jays' GM. The 32-year-old third baseman earned four consecutive top 10 AL MVP Award finishes from '13-16, and he might have gained a fifth had a right calf strain not sidelined him for six weeks in '17. His vision of gaining a lucrative long-term contract this offseason faded as he missed nearly three months this past summer with a left calf strain.
Donaldson ended up hitting .246 with eight homers and an .801 OPS over 52 games with the Blue Jays and Indians this year. After being traded to Cleveland in August, he debuted for the Tribe on Sept. 11 and produced a .920 OPS over 60 plate appearances. Though the post-disabled list sample size was small, Anthopoulos saw enough to believe Donaldson is indeed still capable of being a difference maker on the field and in the clubhouse. Both parties are encouraged by the fact that the third baseman will also now be reunited with George Poulis and Mike Frostad, who served as his athletic trainers during his first three seasons with Toronto.
"We're confident we can keep him on the field," Anthopoulos said. "We're going to be smart about it and be responsible, and [we'll] make sure we give him rest when he needs it. He's a guy who makes everybody around him better. He holds players accountable, because he leads by example."
Along with the providing the right-handed middle-of-the-lineup protection that could enhance Freddie Freeman's NL MVP Award case, Donaldson will now team with Freeman and the recently reacquired Brian McCann to lead a clubhouse blessed with the youthful talents of Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Camargo.
Over the past two years, Camargo has gone from being a potential utility player to a valuable everyday player for a division winner. He proved himself as he hit 17 homers and produced an .800 OPS over 122 starts (105 as a third baseman) this year. But for now, Camargo must prepare to spend the 2019 season as a super-utility player who could still find himself in the lineup on a regular basis.
Camargo will likely get starts at each of the infield positions, and he could see some time in the outfield. Anthopoulos said the versatile infielder and No. 3 third-base prospect Austin Riley will both be introduced to playing the outfield during Spring Training.
After averaging 5.0 runs with a .752 OPS through last season's first 81 games, the Braves averaged 4.3 runs with a .726 OPS during the second half. Anthopoulos believes fatigue may have played a factor. Now with the benefit of a bench that could include both Charlie Culberson and Camargo, manager Brian Snitker will likely take advantage of the chance to rest his regulars more frequently.
"Over the course of six months, things are going to happen," Anthopoulos said. "Having depth, these guys are going to get at-bats one way or the other. Camargo's bat is very important. Josh is not going to play every day. He's going to get days off at certain times."
Anthopoulos was enjoying Thanksgiving Day with his wife and kids at Walt Disney World when he received the call that fueled the completion of this reunion with Donaldson. A few days earlier, he had laid out the framework for the McCann deal that became official on Monday.
At a cost of $25 million, the Braves have satisfied their need for a catcher and a middle-of-the-lineup bat. They'll continue to search the trade market for a front-line starter, and they'll also attempt to add further depth to both their bullpen and bench.
As things stand, it appears Donaldson's arrival will affect Camargo's role and possibly delay Riley's arrival. But a year from now, there's a chance this signing will be remembered as the one that allowed the Braves to take that next step toward becoming World Series contenders.
"We love Josh," Anthopoulos said. "We're thrilled to have him, but it's a one-year deal. Beyond one year, we don't know what's going to happen other than we're hoping we're pouring champagne over each other's heads and he has another MVP season and everything has gone well. That would be a good problem to have."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.