I'm Sorry, I Was Wrong About Josh Donaldson

Sometimes you’re wrong about things. If you’re like me, you’re wrong about many things. I could sit here and tell you that it doesn’t irk me when something I felt to be correct turned out to be very incorrect. I am my father’s son, which means accepting you’re wrong about something is often more difficult than Sweet Dee in Always Sunny not looking like a bird. Being wrong about something is a miserable feeling, I mean, how could I not be right about literally everything? I did my homework, I came to opinion fairly and honestly, and yet, the universe still betrayed me. I like admitting being wrong about something less than I like loud house guests who stumble into our abode in the middle of the night when I definitely have to wake up early the very next day. (A story for another time on another blog, I presume.) Fuck being proven wrong. Have you ever been proven night? That is the good stuff. Like Season 2 of Sons Of Anarchy, give me more of that.

But I was wrong about Josh Donaldson.

I was.

When the news broke that the Atlanta Braves had signed the former AL MVP to a one-year, $23 million contract, I scoffed at the decision by the Braves’ brass. The Braves were tenth in runs scored in 2018, had Austin Riley biding his time in Gwinnett, and had Actually Good Utility Swiss Army Knife John Camargo still on the roster. From a roster-construction position, I didn’t agree with Alex Anthopoulos’ play that paying a lot of money for one year of Donaldson made sense with so many questions in the rotation and bullpen. The offense with Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and friends would be good enough to pseudo-contend in 2019. (Granted, the Braves are still pseudo-contenders in 2019, and if you are talking yourself into Atlanta’s rotation and bullpen surviving a double date of Los Angeles and the winner of the Houston vs. New York bloodbath, you might have a gutting case of Stage Four Homerism.) I would have re-signed Anibal Sanchez, I would have re-signed paid Patrick Corbin, and, hell, I would have paid Bryce Harper. No, the Braves didn’t need Harper to contend, but Harper will make $26 million next season and will continue to make around that number until 2031. Donaldson signed for $23 million when he was 33-years-old and had major injury concerns heading into 2019. Donaldson could have gone the way of Troy Tulowitzski this spring, but he went the way of D.J. LeMahiaeu. Baseball can be weird and nice sometimes, I guess. Ultimately, spending a lot of money for one year on Donaldson when the team didn’t have a great shot at both winning a World Series and re-signing him in the offseason if he were to hit like has was simply bad management. 

But Donaldson is tied with Freeman in WAR at 4.1 and it’s September. Had the Braves done what I suggested, used that money on Corbin and Craig Kimbrell, and, I dunno, Dallas Keuchel, Atlanta may not be 30 games over .500 like they are now. Maybe signing Donaldson so the team could go from tenth to sixth in runs scored is the difference between this team keeping the Washington Nationals from winning the division. (I should also note, and Braves fans, please don’t throw a metaphorical shoe at me, ala former President George Bush in that insane press conference from years ago, for saying this, but, Brian Snitker said another dumb thing over the weekend that Freeman is the MVP and the MVP is tied with Donaldson and trails Acuna in WAR. If Freeman is MVP, is Donaldson also the best one-year signing in recent baseball memory?  

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I scoffed at my old friend 680 The Fan’s Matt Chernoff predicting Donaldson for NL MVP before the season got underway. Sure, he is not in the conversation for MVP, nor would he ever have been, but the Braves’ optimists who hailed the signing of the former Auburn kid as a signal this team was going for it this season were right. The front office deserves credit in believing in Donaldson. The front office deserves credit for choosing to add more firepower to the offense when that wasn’t the clear play. The Braves’ offense would have been scary with or without Donaldson -- largely due to the seasons of Albies and Dansby Swanson -- but he hasn’t just been good, he only trails Freeman in WRC+ at 131. Donaldson has played in 131 games. Donaldson is the wildcard the Braves needed to win back-to-back division titles. Without Donaldson assisting Freeman and Acuna at the top of the order, this team isn’t the same and we’re not talking about a real shot at the World Series this fall.

But what happens after the season? Now that Donaldson has had this insane season at 33-years-old, do the Braves pay him? Do you really believe Donaldson will return on another one-year, prove-it deal? If you believe MLB front offices will act in a more ethical fashion this winter, there is no chances Donaldson signs for another one-year deal. If you believe MLB front offices will continue to act in a more unethical fashion this winter, there is no chance a team signs Donaldson for more than a season or two. Donaldson doesn’t make sense on a rebuilding team, which includes close to half of the league, so his options are already limited. Do the Yankees say screw it and bank on LeMahieu 2.0? Do the Phillies do it to spite Atlanta and keep spending stupid money? We don’t know, but what happens with Donaldson this winter matters. If the Braves don’t make it to the World Series and they lose Donaldson for nothing, was it worth it? I imagine most fans would say yes, but this is the flaw in signing veterans like Donaldson to one-year deals -- if they blossom, you can’t keep them, and if they bomb you wasted a bunch of money on a guy past his prime when you had more pressing needs. It’s fascinating.

But you can’t take away all of these Donaldson dingers. You can’t take away how much this team ostensibly enjoys having him in the clubhouse. You can’t take away how easy it would have been for this Atlanta team to fall out of the playoffs had they gone with Camargo and Riley for 2019 at third base. So I was wrong about Donaldson, but I was right about Corbin and Harper -- both are good and both are under team-control for years. If the Braves really want to build a sustainable winner in Atlanta again they have to jump into the top-5 in MLB payrolls, and that means less flyers like Donaldson, and more investments like Gerrit Cole this winter. Money matters and Donaldson has been so good for Atlanta this season that this winter may be a brutal one down south.