The season’s winding down and the Braves are in stellar position for the playoffs. There’s so much to be grateful for on a team that nearly no none outside of their own fans believed in. The offseason moves, or lack thereof, were heavily criticized, and most thought it was going to be the downfall of the team with even some top MLB analysts discussing the possibility that the Braves would finish closer to the bottom of the division than the top.
We know the story from there. They were facepalm worthy wrong and there’s a real chance that this team can get to 100 wins and even the most homerish Braves fan didn’t see that coming. So many players on this team that have exceeded expectations, but I don’t feel like there is any player on this team that exceeded expectations and provided the nudge of confidence that borders cockiness to this team more than Josh Donaldson, aka Bringer of Rain, or, as I like to know him “The Bringer of Death to the Braves Way”.
With young players coming in by the bucketloads, and many from other countries where celebration is encouraged rather than suppressed, Donaldson’s fire, passion for the game, and the confrontational approach he has to the game is, for me, as freeing of a movement that’s ever been for this franchise. After the debacle of Coppygate, Hart walking away with a slap on the wrist, and the old guard in Schuerholz, palms up in an “it wasn’t me” gesture, a movement away from “The Braves Way” was needed in order for this franchise to move forward. It is with that thought, that I believe Anthopoulos’s signing of Donaldson had as much to do with his expected performance as his attitude. This team was good last year, but with the Donaldson signing, they now know it and aren’t afraid to flaunt it. It is with this thought that I think Anthopoulos will definitely think on re-signing Donaldson to keep him around for another 3 years.
But is it possible? Let’s look at the projected payroll of 2020 and the money left to spend in order to make that call.
I think 3 years is about the longest Anthopoulos will go on any free agent in their 30’s, and while I have very little to back this up, there’s been hints of that from other media outlets outside the Braves suggesting the same. I’m going with it.
Donaldson was expected to be less on the field, both figuratively and literally. Most thought he’d play in 120ish games, make a few IL trips, and prove a solid 3B, both offensively and defensively. Hardly anyone thought he’d be a 5 WAR player mirroring his offensive production from his 2015 season with the Blue Jays, and carrying a team for stretches to, hopefully, the best record since the 14-year streak(would have to get to 97 wins).
Donaldson is still playing well-above average defensively, and debatably, he’s one of the top-5 3rd basemen in the game. With Rendon being the marquee third baseman on the 2020 market, Donaldson would likely be the fallback to everyone that misses out on Rendon. Rendon is likely looking at a 6-year deal as that would take him through his age 35 season. We’ve seen trends lately with players already in their 30’s that most teams aren’t willing to go over 3 years, but are willing to push higher AAV to grab their services. It’s in that thought that I think the Braves aren’t really going to get much of a discount in price on Donaldson, but could grab him by negotiating in a slightly sleazy way to get their guy.
The qualifying offer is sure to come to a slamming halt very soon… but not soon enough for Donaldson as it’s a near guarantee that he’ll receive one this offseason. However, I hope it’s just a matter of paperwork and that Donaldson will receive his QO, turn it down, then sign an extension with the Braves. It would be a win for Donaldson as he’ll be able to rid himself of the QO taint, and a win for the Braves who get their 3B back.
One thing that’s hard to measure is a comp to Donaldson as the free agent market has completely changed these past 3 years for players in their 30s. No one is committing 4+ years to a 33 year old anymore AND giving said 33 year old a high AAV. It’s a tradeoff and one that could work in this situation.
3/81 MM. A 27 MM/year contract would pay Donaldson to be roughly a 3.5 WAR player for the duration of the contract, and according to ZiPS, that’s about a discount of .5 WAR/year. To stay close to home and to be a part of a team that will be in the thick of the pennant race, I feel both the Braves and Donaldson would be happy with that arrangement.