The Indians have struck a deal to acquire Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays, according to a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. The deal is not yet official, and it’s unclear at this time how much of the former MVP’s salary the Tribe will take on. It’s also unclear whether or not any Cleveland prospects will head back to Toronto in the deal. Notably, Donaldson will now be ineligible to receive a qualifying offer at season’s end.
Donaldson, 32, has suffered through an injury-plagued season thus far that’s caused him to miss nearly all of the 2018 season. Most recently, the third baseman was on the disabled list due to a calf strain, which he’s been rehabbing from since late May. Donaldson recently began a rehab assignment with the Jays’ Class-A affiliate, which made him eligible to be placed on trade waivers. It was reported earlier today that he’d cleared waivers and had become eligible to be traded to any team.
Even when Donaldson has been able to take the field this season, he’s been far from his usual productive self. Across a mere 159 plate appearances, he’s managed a .234/.333/.423 batting line, and while that’s technically above-average production when adjusted for context (104 wRC+), it’s barely a shadow of his career .275/.366/.507 performance. The 27.7% strikeout rate he currently sports would be a career high by far as well.
Caution aside, though, this is an incredibly exciting deal for Tribe fans, if for no other reason than the massive upside he’ll present to the organization. Donaldson effectively becomes a dramatic wild card that could be anything from a complete bust to an MVP-caliber bat thrust into the heart of the Tribe’s order. After all, it was only last season that Donaldson slugged his way through a .270/.385/.559, 5-fWAR campaign, including a second-half performance in which he smacked 24 homers and racked up a .331 ISO. Anything close to that performance would serve as a ridiculous upgrade for the Indians’ offense.
But there’s another aspect of the Donaldson acquisition that’s perhaps even more interesting than his offensive upside. The three-time All-Star has played nearly 7,000 innings at third base over the course of his career, and only 108 1/3 innings elsewhere. So despite recent assurances from manager Terry Francona that MVP candidate Jose Ramirez wouldn’t move from third base this season, it seems as though that’s far from a foregone conclusion. I have to imagine that if Donaldson heats up and forces his way into the everyday lineup, he’ll spend most of his time at the hot corner. That would result in a repeat of the Tribe’s stretch run last season during which Ramirez moved to second base, and keystone incumbent Jason Kipnis was pushed into an outfield role.
The puzzle gets even more complicated than that, though. Kipnis himself has been hot lately, going 9 for his last 17 with a homer. While the defensive returns of putting Kip in center field weren’t stellar last season, the Tribe’s seen a wicked curse hit that position this year. Bradley Zimmer is out for the season after suffering a freak shoulder injury, Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall are both out with injuries of their own, and trade deadline acquisition Leonys Martin is done for the year after being hospitalized with a bacterial infection. Even Rajai Davis is on the disabled list with a non-baseball injury. The Tribe’s only other center fielder option at present is rookie Greg Allen, who’s not only struggled at the plate (57 wRC+), but has been a downright liability up the middle. In just 464 innings, he’s accrued -4 defensive runs saved and been graded at -12.3 UZR/150. It’s hard to imagine that Kipnis could be much worse. Pushing Kipnis back to center would allow the speedy Allen to function in a pinch-runner role, which could prove valuable considering he’s been able to swipe 14 bags in 15 tries across just 67 games.
Notably, the deal brings Cleveland fans a fascinating storyline to watch through September. The club is already locked into a playoff spot and doesn’t figure to have any exciting September call-ups (unless they choose to utilize top prospect Triston McKenzie out of the bullpen), so the season’s final month figured to be a drama-free snooze fest prior to this acquisition. Now, though, the city of Cleveland will surely be watching closely to see whether Donaldson can regain his MVP form.
Featured image courtesy of Keith Allison, via Flickr.