The Braves opened free agency with a bang, signing former MVP Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal.
No one can accuse the Braves of inactivity in the aftermath of a long Thanksgiving break. Just hours after agreeing to bring Brian McCann back to Atlanta, the Braves agreed to terms with Josh Donaldson on a big-money, one-year contract.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic is reporting the Braves will pay the former MVP $23 million, the same amount of money he played on last year, with the hope he can stay healthy and provide protection for Freddie Freeman in the lineup. Adding a player of Donaldson’s caliber to a team that won the division by eight games last season is a clear sign the Braves have real ambition to reach the World Series in 2019.
The bet the organization is making is that Donaldson’s injury troubles are behind him. Calf and arm issues limited him to 52 combined games for Toronto and Cleveland last season. If he can return to the form he showcased from 2013-2017 he could be the offensive catalyst Atlanta needs to power through the National League.
If, on the other hand, he can’t fully recover from the issues that have plagued him over the past 12 months this will turn out to be a massive overpay. The Braves do enter this winter with a lot of money to spend, but paying Donaldson $23 million could limit the franchise’s options to spend elsewhere.
The other issue with the deal is what the Braves will do if Donaldson does emerge as one of their best players in 2019. He will hit free agency again next winter. Re-signing him after a big year will be a tough ask for a franchise with limited resources and a lot of young talent coming up in the minor leagues.
They may not need to though as Donaldson could be the perfect stopgap until Atlanta’s No. 5 prospect Austin Riley is ready for a full-time role in the big leagues. It’s very possible the Braves front office is looking at Donaldson as a one-year rental to buy Riley the time he needs to take over at the hot corner for years to come.
The only real losers in this deal are Johan Camargo and the St. Louis Cardinals. Camargo played a very solid third base for Atlanta last season. His 3.7 WAR made him one of the better players in the National League at his position. Donaldson’s ceiling is much higher, but Camargo may chafe at the idea of becoming the team’s super utility player next season.
The Cardinals lose here because many people believed Donaldson heading to St. Louis was inevitable. Instead, they’ll have to play against the talented third baseman in the event they both make the playoffs. It seems their hesitation gave Atlanta the opening they needed to swoop in and sign Donaldson for themselves.
Clearly, the Braves are trying to load up for a long postseason run in 2019. You can’t blame the team for rolling the dice on a former MVP, but Donaldson’s injury history makes him a significant risk. This move will likely be viewed as a make or break acquisition for the Braves’ hopes next season.