While the rest of Major League Baseball was spending the evening of Black Friday recovering from all the hectic holiday shopping and Thanksgiving leftovers, the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics were busy putting the finishing touches on a blockbuster trade.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson, who ascended from out of nowhere in 2013 to become the central figure in the past two of Oakland's three straight trips to the postseason, has been sent to Toronto in exchange for fellow hot-corner man Brett Lawrie and three prospects, according to the A's official Twitter account:
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports was the first to break the news.
This deal is a significant one for both clubs, but it means very different things for each.
The acquisition of Donaldson, who turns 29 on Dec. 8 and is fresh off two MVP-level campaigns as one of the sport's best all-around third basemen, comes a little over a week after Toronto handed out a five-year, $82 million contract—the second largest in franchise history—to catcher Russell Martin.
Those two moves, combined with the offensive talent the Jays already have in place—namely right fielder Jose Bautista, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and shortstop Jose Reyes—suddenly make this one of the most dangerous lineups around.
Although the fact that all five swing from the right side (Reyes is a switch-hitter)—something general manager Alex Anthopoulos will want to address—each provides either on-base ability or power. Or both.
To put some numbers to the names, here's a rundown of each player's relevant statistics in those categories:
|2014 OBP/SLG for Blue Jays' Potential 1-5 in 2015 Lineup|
Considering how unpredictable the AL East proved to be in 2014, the Jays seem to be sensing this is their shot to go for it, and they may not be done, as Jim Bowden of ESPN notes:
Given that the reigning division champion Baltimore Orioles have yet to make any moves, while the 2013 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox just brought in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval—the top two hitters on the free-agent market—it's shaping up to be an interesting offseason in the East.
And things may just be getting started.
Speaking of going for it, that's just what the Athletics did in 2014, albeit to an outcome that ultimately was extremely disappointing.
In early July—Independence Day, to be exact—they traded top prospect Addison Russell to the Chicago Cubs for right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
It was a definitive 2014-or-bust move, one that GM Billy Beane followed up a few weeks later by swapping his cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, for left-hander Jon Lester to further beef up the rotation of a team that looked destined for the playoffs as the best in the majors in the first half.
Alas, Oakland fell apart in the second half, going just 29-38 to finish behind the surging Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.
The slow-motion collapse became complete when Lester, obtained in part because he is one of the top playoff pitchers of this era, couldn't hold a 7-3 lead in the eighth inning of the AL Wild Card Game against the upstart Kansas City Royals, whose postseason-less drought dating back to 1985 was the only one longer than the Blue Jays'.
Now that Donaldson is gone, the last memory of him in an A's uniform will be of his fruitless diving attempt to snag Salvador Perez's hard-hit liner down the left-field line that proved to be the game-winner in the 12th inning.
In the wake of that gut-wrenching loss, there has been speculation that the A's might consider trading off some key pieces, namely Samardzija, who can become a free agent after 2015.
Donaldson's name had been brought up, too, but given that he's still in his prime and is one of the best values in MLB—his projected 2015 salary via arbitration is a mere $4.5 million, per MLB Trade Rumors—it wasn't as if he had to be moved.
Plus, Beane just spent $30 million in a curious move not even two weeks ago to sign designated hitter Billy Butler to help replace the right-handed bat in the lineup that departed when he traded Cespedes.
But with Lester a free agent, Cespedes still in Boston (at the moment?), Samardzija now even more likely to be moved and Donaldson in Toronto, it's obvious the A's are going back to the drawing board after three consecutive trips to the postseason.
This is the way Beane and his front-office cohorts of a mini-market franchise have to operate—by zigging when others would zag.
The goal, of course, is to get younger, cheaper, team-controllable talent, both in terms of quality and quantity. That's the only way the A's can create a window of opportunity to have any sort of sustained success.
The return in this particular trade, however, does feel light, especially with how productive and more importantly, how valuable—in the true definition of the word—Donaldson has been.
While still only 24 years old, Lawrie has battled numerous injury problems in his career and hasn't impressed in the majors since his rookie season in 2011. He'll likely take over for Donaldson at third base in Oakland, a rather precipitous drop-off.
As for the three prospects—infielder Franklin Barreto, lefty Sean Nolin and righty Kendall Graveman—none is considered a can't-miss type. Only Barreto, at No. 5, checked in as part of the Jays' top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America.
Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus would have ranked the three as follows in Toronto's system, per Chris Mellen:
Barreto has the most upside, but he's also an 18-year-old who has yet to play above low-A.
Both Nolin and Graveman have reached the major leagues, but they have accumulated just seven innings combined. As such, they may not yet be ready to join Oakland's 25-man roster on Opening Day 2015, and even if they do, neither projects as more than a mid-rotation arm at best.
It's a testament to Anthopoulos that he was able to pull off this trade without having to surrender any of Toronto's very best prospects, including right-hander Aaron Sanchez or southpaw Daniel Norris. Those two will only help strengthen the Jays during a 2015 season that certainly is setting up to be rather promising.
As for Beane, well, he likely has more maneuvers in mind, starting with swapping Samardzija, as he looks to rebuild the Athletics yet again now that the team's window has all but shut.
Friday night's trade was indeed a significant blockbuster for both the Jays and the A's, two teams now headed in very different directions.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.