This offseason has been a return to the past for Major League Baseball as many of the top free agents are already settled before Christmas. However, there are still some big names available including Josh Donaldson who was a key piece of the Atlanta Braves’ success in 2019. Atlanta is one of several teams in the running for Donaldson’s services which is likely to drive up the price tag. That puts the Braves in an interesting spot.
What would your best offer to Josh Donaldson look like?
Gaurav Vedak: After putting up a near 5.0 fWAR season, Josh Donaldson has become a well deserved hot commodity and is set to demand serious money despite being 34 years old, and rightly deserves a fourth year. The Braves have an immediate need at third and Donaldson would be a massive step in the right direction for the Braves to achieve their main objective which is a World Series. Despite being 34, I would be ready to commit to a 4 year deal, roughly around $120M which would put him at $30M/year which is still less than what he deserves if he continues to produce at a near 5 fWAR level.
Scott Coleman: Donaldson checks so many boxes for this team, and for the sake of keeping him away from the Nationals or Phillies, I would go as high as 4/$100M. Maybe it’s a year too many or a few dollars too high. Who cares? The Braves have the ability to do it with the astoundingly cheap deals they signed Acuña and Albies to last spring. The alternative of not paying Donaldson is (likely) overpaying for Marcel Ozuna or Nicholas Castellanos, or unloading numerous prospects to acquire a third baseman or corner outfielder. If the decision is pay a few extra dollars or give up premium talent in a trade, I know what choice I’m making.
Cory McCartney: Three years, $84M. Can’t go to a fourth year on a 34-year-old, so long as the National League is operating without a designated hitter. At $25 million plus, an additional year can’t include Donaldson as a part-timer and history shows us there’s a much better chance he’d be a liability at that age. In the expansion era, there have been just seven infielders age 37-plus that hit above league average and if I’m Alex Anthopoulos, I’m not willing to find out how that works out for Donaldson.
Demetrius Bell: The analytic in me is thinking that giving Donaldson that extra fourth year considering that he’s both 34 and has a history when it comes to injuries (even with the durability he had in 2019) would be a slight mistake. The fan in me is telling the analytic in me to shut up and just give that man the fourth year. Bringing Donaldson back would give the Braves some security in a position that they’ve struggled to fill since Chipper Jones retired. So yeah, 4/$115M would be as high as I’d go. If the Braves are serious about raising payroll and they want to continue to make the best of the “financial flexibility” that they afforded themselves by signing Acuña and Albies to those absurd deals, then they should have no problem with the money part. It’s the years, and I suppose I wouldn’t mind giving him that fourth year if I was in charge.
Doc Herbert: In a year where there weren’t so many other attractive options, I might be a bit more inclined to shell out the money it would take to re-sign Donaldson - maybe something around four years and $108M. But when you start looking around the rest of the league and seeing that the Cubs are likely to trade Kris Bryant, and the Rockies have grown more attuned to the idea of moving Nolan Arenado, I don’t think the Braves are in a position where they have to overpay for JD, nor do I think they should. Granted, the Braves would still have to pay a high salary for either of the aforementioned outside options - on top of unloading prospects - but a lot of the prospects in the high minors are at the apex of their value, or about to lose value. Why not finally use them to keep from throwing money at a player who may or may not follow the path that 99% of position players go down? No doubt, JD is a tremendous athlete, and we all saw how instrumental he was in this team’s success in 2019. But he’s not immune to time. Long story short: my max offer for JD is 3/$81M, with the expectation that he doesn’t actually take it, then fill the hole elsewhere.
Ivan: What I’d ideally like to do is some kind of nonsensical Scott Boras “swell-opt” nonsense, but sort of in reverse. Basically, I’d want a deal that has greater salaries in each year than the following year, that gives the Braves a chance to opt out of the deal if Donaldson fails to reach a certain PA total, while giving Donaldson a chance to opt out if he reaches some other (high) PA total at the end of each season. Like, the total would be $98M/4, but that wouldn’t be a guarantee. Instead, it’d be like $30M in Year 1, and Donaldson can opt out at 600 PAs while the Braves can opt out at 200 PAs or fewer. Then if neither opts out, $28M in Year 2, and Donaldson can opt out at 500 PAs while the Braves can opt out at 300 PAs or fewer. Then if neither opts out, $21M in Year 3, and Donaldson can opt out at 400 PAs while the Braves can opt out at fewer than 400 PAs. If neither opts out, $18M in Year 4, though ideally this would be structured as like, $8M guaranteed and $2M for each 100 PAs above 100 PAs reached or something (i.e., $18M total at 600 PAs). Failing this sort of nonsense that will never happen, though, I’d be concerned about something beyond like $84M/3 guaranteed, though I encourage options and incentives and so on to try to increase the attractiveness to the team side if they’re really going to tack on another year at an AAV above $25M.
ABsinceWayBack: If the front office really wants to fill their third base and power bat hole, go 3/100 or 4/110. Yes, it’s an overpay for the value. Filling third base will require it. Yes, he will probably turn into a turkey in the fourth year and maybe in halfway in the third. If they are going to overpay, I would do it with cash and not prospect capital to acquire Kris Bryant. Does anyone remember the Realmuto trade? Also, outside of their top 5, the Braves don’t really have a lot, or not as much as you would think for tanking three years. And I would rather see an Acuna-Pache-Waters outfield for the next seven years than see them traded away.
So go big or go home. Going home would mean piecing together an outfield to cover the next 1-2 years, and there is an abundance of second-tier free agent outfielders that they could possibly get 4 WAR from.
Anthony Traurig: 4 years/$100 million. After seeing how the offense performed with Donaldson in the cleanup spot, I’d be willing to pay for one more year than I’m comfortable with. To ease the burden of the fourth year a little, I might structure it as $28 million for the first three seasons and $16 million for the fourth. Donaldson represents the full package of what the Braves need - from his defense to his leadership to his swagger. I was pretty adamant about not giving him more than three years, but then Donaldson started doing the umbrella home run routine. Pay the man!
Kris Willis: 4-Years, $100 million has a nice sound to it. Atlanta’s championship window is open and the franchise needs to be willing to spend the money to add the necessary pieces. While giving a four-year deal to a player who is 34 years old does give me some pause, but they are in position where they could possibly front load the deal to lesson the sting at the end of the contract. Alex Anthopoulos hasn’t been one to take many chances since coming to Atlanta but the affordable contracts given to Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies allow him some leeway in this instance.