Friday, May 19, 2017

Should the Red Sox trade for Josh Donaldson?

The idea of the Blue Jays trading Josh Donaldson has banged around the internet a lot since the Jays went 8-17 in April and find themselves in the basement of the AL east. While the Jays have been decimated by injuries and almost assuredly will play better baseball once their studs get back in the lineup and rotation, at this point their hole is probably too big.

CBS' Jonah Keri wrote this piece today to present The Case for Trading Donaldson. Here are the highlights:

  • Donaldson is 31 years old, well on the other side of the 22-26 year old peak we typically see in position players in today's MLB
  • Donaldson will be a free agent after the 2018 season. If a team trades for him now, they will control him for the rest of this season and all of next, meaning the Jays will get more in return for him now than they would at this year's winter meetings or at the trade deadline in 2018 
  • Donaldson's defensive ratings have slipped every year from 2014 to 2016 - he was the best defensive 3B in the majors in 2014, and has slipped down to 14th in 2016
  • There happens to be a lot of contenders with holes at 3B - the Cardinals, Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros to name four, depending on how you feel about Alex Bregman and his shaky defense in 2017. There would be great demand for Donaldson right now, driving up his price
So those are the reasons why the Blue Jays should explore trading Josh Donaldson, but why would teams be willing to pay a hefty price for him? Consider the following:
  • Donaldson was the AL MVP in 2015, when he hit 41 homers with 123 RBI. He followed that up with 37 homers and 99 RBI in 2016. In short, he's one of the three best position players in the American League
  • Using the ISO stat, which is a stat which attempts to measure pure hitting power (it's basically slugging percentage with the singles taken out, or the number of doubles, triples, and homers hit per AB), Donaldson was the 8th most powerful hitter in the majors in 2015 and the 10th most powerful in 2016 (for the record, David Ortiz, in his final season, led the majors in ISO by 27 points!!!)
  • The guy can mash it, he's still a perfectly adequate 3B, and by all accounts he's a great clubhouse guy
  • For the Red Sox, here's a quick rundown of the bWAR of all the players they've run out there at 3B this year: Pablo Sandoval (-0.5), Marco Hernandez (0.2), Brock Holt (-0.2), Josh Rutledge (-0.1), and Deven Marrero (0.1). That's a total of -0.5. This all a fancy way of confirming what anybody who has watched the Red Sox 3B play this year: they're running out a parade of stiffs even worse than the typical 4A player. We need a third-sacker.
So what would it take to get the 2015 MVP onto the Red Sox? Well, a lot. The Blue Jays are in an interesting position with a bunch of aging veterans heading towards free agency. They might go for a full rebuild, but they're more likely to want major-league-ready prospects in return. The Red Sox have quite a few players in that mold - Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr, Eduardo Rodriguez, Blake Swihart, and Mookie Betts to name five. Of course, any package for Donaldson will include talks on Rafael Devers, Jason Groome, and Sam Travis. I see two options:
  • 1. A package headed by Devers that unloads just about every remaining prospect in the Red Sox system
  • 2. Two out of the following three: Bradley Jr, Swihart, Rodriguez, plus a couple lower-level prospects
Would Jackie Bradley Jr, Blake Swihart, and two lesser prospects be enough to get him? Swihart, Ed Rod, and two lesser prospects?  Maybe not if the Astros dangle Alex Bregman. If the Red Sox could get Donaldson for option 2 above, I would do it. Probably not for option 1, although it would be tempting if Sandoval comes back and plays terribly in June.

So if not Donaldson, then what other options are out there for an upgrade at 3B? 
  • It's no secret that Todd Frazier and his .198 batting average is going to be available to rent for the remainder of 2017 at a much cheaper cost than Donaldson. While Frazier is struggling in 2017, he put up bWAR's of 5.1, 4.0, and 3.2 from 2014-2016. He would be an upgrade.
  • Mike Moustakas is on a sinking ship in Kansas City and has generally underperformed expectations. After an all-star campaign in 2015 that saw him rack up 4.4 bWAR, he plummeted to 0.8 in 2016 while hitting just .240 with 7 homers. He might not even be an upgrade over Sandoval at this point.
  • Yunel Escobar will be a free agent after 2017, and if the Angels fall out of contention, he could certainly be had. He's 34 years old and has very little pop in his bat (.391 slugging% last year), but he did hit .314 and .304 in 2015 and 2016 respectively and he gets on base.  He is currently on the shelf with a hamstring strain.
  • Travis Shaw. Just kidding.
  • Jose Reyes. Reyes started 2017 in a horrible slump, but has come on lately to raise his batting average up to....197. Well, he's a free agent after 2017, so he would be cheap, and the Mets are sinking so he'd be available. Yeah, me either.
  • David Freese. He's not the player he once was, but he's got postseason chops and he can still swing the stick a little bit. He's put up slugging percentages of .420, .412, and now .443 from 2015-2017. He has an .816 OPS in part-time duty for the Pirates this year. He is 34 and he's signed through 2018, so that's not ideal.
  • And last but not least, my personal favorite on the list: Trevor Plouffe. I wanted the Red Sox to trade for Trevor Plouffe last year when the Twins fell apart and Travis Shaw was sputtering. Plouffe is still only 30 years old and he's a free agent at the end of 2017. The A's aren't winning anything this year, so he should be available for a very reasonable asking price. Plouffe has put up a slugging percentage of .420 or higher for four straight seasons. Plus, he's got a great name. He's not an all-star, but he's the best fit I could find - cheap, above replacement level, and not locked into a commitment beyond 2017. 
So what do you guys think? Trade for Donaldson? What would you give up? Would you rather go after any of the other guys on my list? Have anybody else in mind? Think we should hold pat and pray the Panda is above replacement level?


  1. Because the Jays & Sox are divisional rivals it would take a massive overpay for Boston to acquire Donaldson. Probably Eduardo, Devers, & JBJ. Personally I would rather have a Devers going forward than Donaldson.

    As far as trading for a stop gap third sucker I think the Sox are a month or so away from considering this. First they have to see if Sandoval is healthy, and to a lesser extent Brock Holt. Another player that could still be tried is PawSox 3rd baseman Matt Dominguez, who has some big league experience. If Devers continues raking AA, a promotion to AAA will come by July 1 if not earlier. This could set Devers for a Boston arrival in mid August, ala 2013's Xander Bogaerts. If Devers keeps hitting.

    I would be okay with low cost deals for Moustakos or Plouffe, Boston bid for Plouffe last winter as a free agent but he choose Oakland which had more playing time to offer.

    The other option is to get David Price back & pitch so well as a team that they can get by with Deven Marrero at third.

  2. I question the trade value of Blake Swihart, a 25-year-old defensively challenged catcher with a projected MLB wRC+ of 85 and a wRC+ of 71 in 52 plate appearances this season at Triple A.

    1. You might have a point there, but the Blue Jays have an aging Russell Martin falling off fast in productivity, and when he was on the DL in May, next up in the Jays' system was Luke Maile, who went 3 for 46 with one extra base hit. In other words, the Blue Jays need their catcher of the future. Whether Swihart is that kind of player remains to be seen, but if added to a package with Jackie Bradley Jr. or Ed Rod and another couple prospects? Would it be enough? Yeah, I'm still not sure.

  3. Interesting take Brandon, however the fact that Donaldson is 31 and currently on the DL is concerning. While he does have a superior track record to our current roster of 3rd basemen, my fear would be that we would overpay as Art mentioned and end up with damaged goods. I would not trade Rodriguez or Devers and would 50/50 on moving JBJ. Another prospect type name that you did not mention, probably because he is not quite knocking on the door like Devers is Michael Chavis who is currently leading the South Atlantic League in hitting. I doubt that he would be enough to package around like Devers but would be another name to throw in the mix.