Josh Donaldson is heading to the Atlanta Braves on a one-year deal worth $23 million. While the dust is still settling, there’s plenty to parse.
Here are three major storylines to examine following Monday’s big move.
Donaldson betting on himself
Donaldson is entering his age-33 season and, with no qualifying offer, wasn’t attached to draft-pick compensation. Despite being limited to 52 games in 2018, this offseason could’ve been Donaldson’s best kick at a lucrative multi-year deal.
According to FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing, the third baseman was expected to get a three-year deal worth roughly $58.5 million. If that figure is indicative of his true market value, Donaldson is foregoing roughly $35 million for a chance to earn more next winter, heading into his age-34 season.
Although the one-time MVP could be tendered a qualifying offer next winter, his new deal is a gutsy move that makes some sense. Donaldson seemed to return to form when healthy, authoring a .920 OPS with three home runs over his final 16 games of the regular season with the Cleveland Indians.
Teams don’t like paying players on the wrong side of 30, but, depending on the type of market that develops next year, Donaldson could be looking at a three or four-year deal worth $20-25 million per year if he returns to his MVP-caliber form.
Low risk, high reward
The Braves are making a strong upside play, and credit to general manager Alex Anthopoulos for realizing that Donaldson would prefer to bet on himself and re-enter the market. Remember, Anthopoulos acquired Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Since that trade, Donaldson has accrued 22.7 WAR, which is more than all position players other than Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, and Mike Trout, and he accomplished that while playing roughly 100 fewer games than those five superstars. When Donaldson has been on the field, he’s been a world-beater.
It’s not as though there’s no risk to Atlanta investing $23 million into one player, but it’s certainly not as risky as a larger, multi-year deal.
Also, as an added bonus, if Donaldson performs well enough, the Braves could guarantee themselves some draft-pick compensation by giving their rental a qualifying offer. What are the odds that Donaldson takes a pillow contract worth $23 million and then agrees to a one-year qualifying offer in the neighborhood of $18 million next year?
Juggernaut in waiting
With the addition of Donaldson, the Braves have teed up an offseason that could not only be busy, but puts them very close to being a true juggernaut.
They’re coming off a first-place finish, but at 90 wins, they had the worst record of any playoff team. Now, though, Atlanta is on the cusp of being the best team in the National League. Here’s a look at the projected lineup:
|Ronald Acuna Jr.||LF||R|
|Brian McCann/Tyler Flowers||C||L/R|
What’s next on the Braves’ agenda is anybody’s guess, but an outfielder is likely among their top priorities. In the absence of Nick Markakis, an inexpensive option on the free-agent market could be Carlos Gonzalez. He’s not especially flashy, but he’d add some left-handed punch to the lineup, is projected to be worth the same WAR as Markakis by Steamer, and is expected to earn a one-year, $7-million deal by FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing.
Second, Johan Camargo is now without any guaranteed playing time. The 24-year-old infielder is coming off an impressive campaign, posting an .806 OPS at the hot corner. Camargo won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season, making him an interesting trade token. Alternatively, Atlanta could move Camargo to shortstop and shop 24-year-old Dansby Swanson, who might welcome a larger return. The former first-overall pick has struggled at the plate and owns a .683 career OPS.
Next, the Braves could use some late-inning relief help. They have some great relievers in A.J. Minter, Dan Winkler, and Arodys Vizcaino, but lack some elite punch. While the return of Craig Kimbrel feels preordained, Atlanta spending big bucks on late-inning relief doesn’t seem especially realistic. David Robertson might be an interesting target, while buying low on Cody Allen would be worthwhile.
And, lastly, let’s take a look at the rotation:
That’s a lot of right-handers. Also, even though Foltynewicz was impressive last year, the rotation lacks an ace. Atlanta has a lot of prospect depth, and could go with Max Fried, Kolby Allard, or Luiz Gohara to give their rotation a little more left-handed punch.
The expectation is the Braves won’t add any of this year’s top-tier free agents. However, they have the farm system to broker a blockbuster with the San Francisco Giants to get Madison Bumgarner, if new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is open to it. Perhaps New York Mets righty Noah Syndergaard – who Anthopoulos traded away during his tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays – is on the club’s radar. Maybe even Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman could be an option. And, if none of those alleys work, there are countless others for Anthopoulos to stroll down, like following up on the Indians’ reported interest in shopping Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco. A lot can happen in the next few weeks, and Anthopoulos has never been shy about making flashy deals before.