Making sense of A’s trade of All-Star Donaldson to Blue Jays
I understand Billy Beane’s thinking. But I also understand all those who will say, “Stop it! Enough already!”
Josh Donaldson is that good, one of the top all-around performers in the game — and a player who is about to turn 29 and under club control for the next four years.
Gold-Glove caliber defenders who offer power and durability rarely become available with this much service time remaining. And truth be told, Donaldson wasn’t available, at least not the first time the Blue Jays asked in October.
But Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos called Beane again last weekend and essentially said, “What if I really made it worth your while?”
Anthopoulos did. And on Friday night, Beane moved Donaldson in what is certain to be one of his most scrutinized deals yet — and yes, that is saying something.
For Donaldson, the Athletics received third baseman Brett Lawrie and three prospects — right-hander Kendall Graveman, left-hander Sean Nolin and shortstop Franklin Barreto.
For Donaldson, I’m not sure it was possible for the A’s to get enough.
The usual caveat applies: Trades like this cannot be judged immediately. But when you move a player of Donaldson’s quality, and give up that much club control, the odds of coming out ahead are more difficult.
Beane knows that, but he is not done yet. The Athletics, according to a major-league source, have at least one more significant trade brewing. The source went on to say, “This is Billy re-working the club.”
And the Jays are the first beneficiary.
Yes, I love this for the Jays, even if their lineup remains too right-handed, even if they need to re-sign free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera or find a replacement, even if their rotation still lacks a legitimate ace.
Right fielder Jose Bautista and first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion are under club control only through 2016. Frankly, the Jays should have been this aggressive last season, when the Yankees and Red Sox were struggling. But, according to rival executives, ownership imposed financial restrictions on Anthopoulos.
Do the trade for Donaldson and signing of free-agent catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract represent a shift by ownership?
Too early to say.
To this point, the Jays’ payroll does not figure to rise dramatically from their $137 million Opening Day number last season; Martin will make $7 million in the first year of his back-loaded deal, and Donaldson projects to earn $4.5 million in the first of his four arbitration years, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.
The Jays, however, aren’t done, either — and once a team starts down this path, it needs to keep going.
In a perfect world, the Jays would sign one of the top free-agent starting pitchers and find a left-handed hitter (catcher Dioner Navarro requested a trade after the Jays signed Martin, but as a switch-hitter still has value to Toronto).
Say what you want about the Athletics, but this is one of Beane’s enduring lessons: You’re either in or you’re out. Funny thing, though: The A’s never are completely out; the last thing Beane wants to do is stay down for a long period of time.
Remember when he traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey within a span of 19 days in Dec. 2011? The consensus was that Beane was tearing down the club. But in the three seasons since, the A’s have averaged 93 wins and reached the postseason every year.
Now the A’s are losing free-agent left-hander Jon Lester, setup man Luke Gregerson and shortstop Jed Lowrie from a team that finished 10 games behind the Angels last season, barely reached the playoffs and lost the AL Wild Card Game.
Beane clearly isn’t conceding — his first move this offseason was to sign free-agent first baseman/DH Billy Butler to a three-year, $30 million contract. But the trade of Donaldson is certain to be unpopular with a segment of fans who are tired of the constant churn, necessary as it might be for a club that lacks a new, revenue-producing ballpark.
The final verdict, of course, hinges on the return.
Lawrie, 24, is a terrific talent who is under club control for three more seasons. Still, he has been on the disabled list six times since his major-league debut in 2011. And some in the industry see him as another Gordon Beckham, a player who might never fulfill his offensive potential.
Barreto, 18, could prove the biggest prize — he dominated the low Class-A Northwest League last season. Will he be the next Addison Russell, whom the Athletics traded last July as part of the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal? Well, Barreto is not a great defender, and could end up at second base or in the outfield. On the other hand, he has the tools to improve at short, and the A’s believe that he could move quickly.
Graveman, 23, could jump right into the Athletics’ rotation next season; he worked 172 innings last season in his first full professional campaign, but threw so many strikes and gets so many groundballs, the total did not even concern the Jays. Nolin, 24, is a solid prospect for the fourth player in a deal; the Athletics project him as a back-end starter.
In the big picture, Beane is again amassing a gaggle of candidates for his rotation; Graveman, Nolin, Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz, plus two others coming off Tommy John surgery, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin.
The obvious guess is that Samardzija will be the next to go, but Beane might be better off waiting until July, particularly if he intends to compete for at least the first part of next season. More likely, the next move will involve a left-handed hitter such as Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick or John Jaso; Beane’s recent acquisition of Ike Davis created the depth to trade one of them.
I have no idea where Beane is going with all this. I have no idea what kind of team the Athletics will be next season. All I know is that Beane just traded four years of Josh Donaldson. And that at first blush, many will find it difficult to accept this move.