Breaking down Josh Donaldson's free agency

October 29th, 2018

This offseason, we're taking a close look at some of the most prominent players eligible for free agency. Now we look at Josh Donaldson.

Name: Josh Donaldson

Position: Third base

Team: Cleveland Indians

Age (as of Opening Day 2019): 33

2018 statistics: .246/.352/.449, 8 HR, 23 RBI (52 games)

Looking back

Prior to the 2018 season, Donaldson was expected to be one of the top free agents available this winter. The 2015 American League Most Valuable Player and a three-time All-Star, Donaldson played only 36 games for the Blue Jays during the first five months of the season, missing all of June, July and August with a calf injury. When healthy, Donaldson has been one of the most productive hitters in the Majors since 2013, posting a .901 OPS from 2013-17 while appearing in 155 or more games in four of those five seasons.

Looking ahead

Assuming he can stay in the lineup, there's no reason to think Donaldson can't be the middle-of-the-order power threat he was during his first three seasons in Toronto, when he averaged 37 home runs per year from 2015-17.

Buyer beware?

Nobody has questioned the impact Donaldson can have on a team when he's healthy. But can he stay healthy? After playing at least 155 games in every year from 2013-16, Donaldson missed 49 games in '17 and spent more than four months on the DL this past season.

Scout's take

"Donaldson's free agency is perhaps the most fascinating case this winter. He enters the market preparing for his age-33 season and likely seeking a deal that will cover post-prime years. That comes on the heels of an injury-riddled 2018 that saw a cumulative downturn in his performance on both sides of the ball. He clearly performed better after returning to the field, but the question remains of how to value him properly moving forward. Is he capable of returning to the All-Star-caliber play?

"The upcoming deal will center around the evaluation of the bat. Josh seemed to get away from his approach at times this year, and while he is still going to walk and strike out, the swing decisions didn't appear to be what they have been in the past. I believe that has resulted in fewer homers and hard contact. The lower leg injury that cost him the majority of the season could have played a significant role in the decrease in those areas as well. However, if I'm buying, there needs to be some sort of confidence in his health returning fully and that will yield better results.

"Defensively, I think the end-of-season exposure to first base only increases his versatility and value, but the range regression at third base will perhaps dampen the market as well. Overall, I see him as a shorter-term, higher AAV type of option for a team in a win-now mode who has the depth to cover over potential injuries and under performance at the tail end of the deal."

For comp's sake

Troy Glaus averaged 39 home runs while posting a .902 OPS for the Angels from 2000-2002, winning World Series MVP honors in 2002. He missed 71 games in 2003 and was limited to only 58 games in 2004 due to shoulder surgery, ultimately signing a four-year, $45 million pact with the D-backs in December 2004. Glaus' $11.5 million average annual salary matched Scott Rolen as the second highest for a third baseman at the time, trailing only ($12.8 million).

Potential fits

The Cardinals were believed to be a potential landing spot for Donaldson throughout the 2018 season, and St. Louis could try to make a play for him this winter. The Angels and Braves have also been linked to Donaldson. The big question is whether Donaldson will ink a one-year deal and try to reestablish his value with a big 2019, or whether he'll attempt to secure a multiyear deal at a number that doesn't figure to be as high as it did a year ago.