In a frustratingly quiet offseason, the signing of Josh Donaldson has not received the credit it deserves. Alex Anthopoulos was able to convince Donaldson to take a one-year “prove it” contract worth $23 million – important when considering among the Braves top prospects is third baseman Austin Riley who projects to be MLB-ready this season.
The move allows the Braves to bridge the gap while giving Donaldson the opportunity to show the rest of the league he’s still the same player he was after suffering multiple injuries over the last two seasons. So not only are the Braves betting on Donaldson to add serious juice at the top of the lineup, but Donaldson is betting on himself so that he can land a lucrative multi-year deal next offseason.
On the contract, Donaldson said, “Honestly I thought it was a great deal for me, especially coming off the injury-plagued season I had a year ago. I was looking forward to proving Alex right again. I proved him right the first time he got me, and now I want to do it again.”
Of course, Donaldson is referring to when Anthopoulos unloaded a good chunk of the Blue Jays’ farm to acquire him before the start of 2015. He would go on to win MVP that year, slugging 41 homers and driving in 123 runs, and followed it up by finishing fourth in the MVP race in 2016. In his four seasons with Toronto, Donaldson slashed .281/.383/.548.
Even still, after missing two months of the 2017 season and playing in 52 games in 2018, there are justifiable concerns about whether he can be the dominant player he was in Toronto – but they should not be in regards to his talent. If Donaldson is healthy, there are few more valuable players in the game today.
From 2015 to 2017, Donaldson posted a WAR of 21.4 – second in the MLB to Mike Trout (25.8) and ahead of names like Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve. Which is why looking at his 2018 numbers can be deceiving. He only managed to hit .246 with eight home runs in 52 total games, far from the Donaldson the league had grown accustomed to seeing. However, there is no questioning he was dealing with lingering injuries for the bulk of those contests.
The former AL MVP suffered a shoulder injury just 12 games into the season causing him to miss a month of playing time. He returned, but it is difficult to say he was ever fully healthy and hit the DL again a month later with a calf injury that shut him down for the majority of the remainder of the season.
Donaldson was finally traded in September – for an aging minor league pitcher that carried a 5.27 ERA – to show you just how far his value had fallen. But the Indians received a much better version of Donaldson than they probably ever expected. In sixteen games, Donaldson slashed .280/.400/.520 for the Tribe, showing the same ferocious approach at the plate that made him one of the most feared hitters in the game for years.
After suffering a severe calf injury that prevented him from running for quite some time, Donaldson is not going to be a player who steals 20 bases or turns his doubles into triples. Those are also things he has never been known for in the first place. What made him the second best player in baseball for a four-year stretch was his ability to rake at the plate and play above-average defense at the hot corner. And after taking a quick look at some of his hacks in the beginnings of spring training, those are not going to be things Braves fans have to worry about.
— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 17, 2019
A healthy Josh Donaldson – even at 33 years old – is a scary proposition for any opposing team.
Which is what Anthopoulos believes he will be getting out of the man who has already made him look like a genius once before. Like all well-run organizations, the Braves did their due diligence in vetting Donaldson’s injury concerns and felt he was healthy and could still be the caliber of player that he was not long ago.
It also does not hurt that Donaldson will be reuniting with his old training staff in Toronto.
“George (Poulis) means a lot,” Donaldson said. “He understands me and understands my body. He did a great job for me in Toronto, making the adjustments going to a turf field and really helping me with recovery. He’s a good person as well. I trust him.”
All signs are pointing to both the Braves and Donaldson himself believing that his health will hold up for the entirety of 2019. And if that happens, this could go down as perhaps the best signing of the MLB offseason, providing the Braves with the middle of the order pop that they were missing a year ago.