The Cardinals are widely believed to be the favorites to sign Josh Donaldson in free agency, but St. Louis can’t afford to wait to make their move.
In many ways, Josh Donaldson is hitting free agency at the wrong time. If he would’ve hit the open market as a healthy player he’d be looking at a big-money contract. As it stands, his market is somewhat depressed after missing most of the 2018 campaign due to injury.
Most people believe the Cardinals are poised to take advantage of this opportunity to buy-low on the high upside of Donaldson. St. Louis has an obvious need at third base and certainly have the financial wherewithal to meet the Donaldson’s contract demands. In fact, a recent survey of MLB fans showed that over half of those surveyed believe he’ll end up in a Cardinals uniform in 2019.
The idea from a St. Louis perspective will be to gamble on Donaldson returning to the All-Star form he showed prior to his injury. He may never return to his MVP form of 2015, but at 32 years old he’s still only at the tail end of his prime. Unfortunately for the Cardinals front office, they aren’t the only organization who can envision a bounce back season or two from Donaldson.
Right now, most teams interested in signing a third baseman have their attention focused squarely on Manny Machado. That’s giving the Cardinals a semi-exclusive negotiating window they can use to their advantage. They cannot afford to let this advantage pass them by.
The minute Machado starts eliminating teams from consideration, the market for Donaldson is going to heat up considerably. Not every team who wants to ink Machado is going to view him as a reasonable alternative, but those with legitimate needs at the hot corner will absolutely make Donaldson their next target.
Obviously, that means his price tag has the ability to heat up quickly. The Cardinals can’t afford to let a bidding war erupt for his services. If that does occur, it’s possible Donaldson could get out of their price range. If that does occur, the Cardinals are going to head into next season with a massive hole at third base.
The right strategy for St. Louis is to push Donaldson hard to sign before Machado. It’s possible he might not be willing to go first, but the Cardinals should exert serious market pressure on him to change his mind. Paying Donaldson a few more million than you think he’s worth now, may prevent the team from being eliminated from the race due to financial restraints later on.
The Cardinals front office needs to decide what they believe Donaldson is worth, and make that contract offer to him quickly. If they wait for Machado’s market to evolve, they could lose the chance to sign their top free agent target this winter.