Toronto Blue Jays

MVP Josh Donaldson's 2-Year Extension Buys Time for Long-Term Megadeal

FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2015, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson celebrates his two run home run against the Kansas City Royals during the third inning in Game 3 of baseball's American League Championship Series in Toronto. A person familiar with the negotiations says Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, Donaldson and the Blue Jays are nearing agreement on a $28.65 million, two-year contract. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been finalized. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
Associated Press
Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2016

The Toronto Blue Jays signed Josh Donaldson to a two-year extension worth nearly $29 million Monday night, avoiding salary arbitration. That's the news, courtesy of Sportsnet's Shi Davidi

Here's the simmering subtext: The Jays just bought themselves an opportunity to negotiate a long-term extension with the reigning American League MVP. And they should seize it.

Donaldson asked for $11.8 million for a potential arbitration hearing Feb. 15. Toronto countered with $11.35 million. That small but significant gap could have put the Blue Jays in the uncomfortable position of explaining why one of the best all-around players on the planet wasn't worth an extra $450,000.

Now, as Davidi noted, "Resolving a potentially sticky situation amicably is sure to rebuild any of the goodwill between Donaldson and the Blue Jays that may have been lost when the sides couldn’t agree on a deal before last month’s filing deadline."

The warm, fuzzy feelings are back. Donaldson, who made $4.3 million in 2015, got a significant raise, and the defending AL East champs can exhale.

Donaldson and the Blue Jays avoided a potentially uncomfortable arbitration hearing.
Donaldson and the Blue Jays avoided a potentially uncomfortable arbitration hearing.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Their work isn't done, however. Donaldson is still set to hit the open market after the 2018 season. That may seem like a long way off, but the closer it gets, the less likely Donaldson is to sign a deal without testing the free-agent waters.

And if he does that, you can bet other deep-pocketed suitors will come circling. Toronto simply can't afford—quite literally—to surrender its best player to a bidding war.

OK, let's pause for a moment to recall the season the Donaldson just had, and the reason why he's ultimately worth a Fort Knox payday.

If you like WAR, Donaldson's mark of 8.7 was the third-best in the game, behind only Bryce Harper (9.5) and Mike Trout (9.0), per FanGraphs

If you like defense, Donaldson's 9.2 ultimate zone rating and 11 defensive runs saved, also per FanGraphs, paint a picture of slick leather at the hot corner.

And if you like the traditional counting stats, take a gander at his 41 home runs, 123 RBI and MLB-leading 122 runs scored. 

By any measure, Donaldson was an absolute beast in 2015. Already a star, he vaulted into the firmament of elite, game-changing talents. He became, in other words, the type of player you build a franchise around.

Mike Trout was the only player in the AL with a higher WAR than Donaldson in 2015.
Mike Trout was the only player in the AL with a higher WAR than Donaldson in 2015.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Yes, at age 30 Donaldson is a bit longer in the tooth than Harper (23), Trout (24) or fellow superstar third baseman Manny Machado (23) of the Baltimore Orioles. He's still got plenty of potential prime years left, however, and the Jays need to see that he spends them north of the border.

What would a Donaldson megadeal look like? An interesting, if imperfect, comparison is the 10-year, $292 million pact Miguel Cabrera signed with the Detroit Tigers in 2014.

Cabrera, who was just shy of his 31st birthday at the time, boasted an extensive track record and had already won a pair of AL MVP Awards. But he also had more miles on his body and didn't offer the defensive upside Donaldson does.

A contract approaching that length would obviously be a gamble for the Jays, as they'd be paying Donaldson beyond his age-40 season. And Toronto, with its midlevel payroll, isn't in the habit of handing out gaudy, headline-grabbing deals. 

Players like Donaldson don't come around often, though.

The Blue Jays have excited their fanbase with this high-scoring offense and forged an identity as MLB's big bashers. Other key offensive cogs such as 35-year-old Jose Bautista and 33-year-old Edwin Encarnacion may have shorter shelf lives, but Donaldson could be a building block for years to come.

Here's what general manager Ross Atkins said about locking up his MVP for the long haul, per Davidi:

There are obviously challenges to that, we have to agree on what that means financially, but we're going to do everything we can. He is a remarkable player and I can say from watching him, there aren't many guys like that. It is a whole other level of talent, competitiveness, drive, and it's not just on offence. A lot of guys talk about Trout, and a lot of guys talk about best players in the game, you can build an organization around Trout; I'll take Donaldson.

Talk is one thing; signing enormous checks is another. But the Jays are saying the right things. Donaldson is pumped. The conditions are right to make this marriage last.

Toronto avoided arbitration with its best player. That's a story unto itself, but it might be the beginning of a much longer yarn.

 

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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