Before we get started, I just want to make it clear that I’m a fan of acquiring Josh Donaldson. Or at least moves like acquiring Josh Donaldson. I’ve gone on record already this off-season stating my desire for the team to accelerate this rebuild process, and not let one more year of Freddie Freeman’s prime rot away at the bottom of the standings. In theory, I’m in favor of it.
In practice, however, it gets trickier. At least with Donaldson specifically.
The first, and most important factor here is that Donaldson is only under contract for one more year. After 2018, he’s set to become of free agent for probably the last time in his career and guys who get this close to free agency rarely fail to make it onto the open market. And given what the price tag is likely to be once he is a free agent, it’s safe to assume that any trade for Donaldson, at least for Atlanta, is going to be a one-and-done arrangement.
What this means is, if you’re going to make a move for him now, your 2018 season has to be worth whatever the acquiring cost is going to be. There’s no point in paying the price Toronto will want just so Donaldson can help you win 81 games. If you’re not confident you can win a division in 2018, then Donaldson simply isn’t worth it. I would set the benchmark at 90 wins. Can my team win 90 games in 2018? If the answer is yes, then go for it. If no, then don’t.
So the Braves can’t just trade for Donaldson. I’ve had trade ideas sent my way with guys asking if this trade or that trade makes sense and the problem is, even if the individual trades themselves work, other big steps would have to come either before or after that for the plan as a whole to make sense. The Braves aren’t just Josh Donaldson away from 90 wins.
For a Josh Donaldson trade to make sense, Atlanta would have to do a few more things:
- A spot must be opened for Ronald Acuna from day one. If you’re going for it in 2018 then Acuna must be on the team and in the lineup Opening Day. Full stop.
- At least one SP needs to be added to the roster. And a good one. Teheran, Folty, Gohara, Newcomb and Fried is a solid start but talent and experience need to be added to that rotation if the playoffs are the goal. Cobb, Archer, Stroman, Arrieta…someone. The Braves would either need a second big trade or a big signing.
- The bullpen. The bullpen would need at least 2 experienced and productive guys added to it before it could be fully trusted. There’s some young talent down there now but if you’re going for it 2018, the bullpen has to be solidified. According to Fangraphs FA projections you could get Brandon Morrow and Mike Minor combined for about 20M/year. I would seriously consider it.
- A tough decision would have to made on Matt Kemp. Finding a decent LF on a bargain isn’t that hard these days but before that could happen, Matt would probably have to be cut. There are some interesting trade options that might be available for creatively shifting the money around but, push comes to shove, Atlanta would have to be prepared to just cut him. A one-year all in doesn’t allow for any replacement level players seeing playing time.
So that’s a lot. If Atlanta is willing to do those things, then a Donaldson trade makes sense. This isn’t a post telling you they shouldn’t do all that, but actually to the contrary. I’d be thrilled. Can you imagine Donaldson and Freeman anchoring a lineup with Acuna and Albies in there and a competent LF? Hell yeah. Sign me up now. Plus a legitimate starting pitcher leading a barrage of young, talented arms. I’d love it.
But what I wouldn’t love and have no interest seeing is Atlanta just trading for Josh Donaldson. That makes no sense.
The other crux is that Toronto has expressed a desire to remain competitive in 2018 and it’s been speculated that they’d want at least one MLB player back in any deal for the all-world 3B. The Brave could maybe work out a deal involving Folty and prospects going back to Toronto but other than that, Atlanta doesn’t really have MLB players it can spare. The goal, as we’ve said, is to contend in 2018 to make any trade worth it and every piece you give up off your major league team somewhat defeats the purpose.
I love the idea of trading for Josh Donaldson. But given everything else that would need to be done to the team to make it worth it and the fact that Atlanta might not match up from an asset standpoint, it’s hard to realistically see a fit.
Doesn’t mean it won’t happen though. Not with this new guy in charge.