There are plenty of “Josh Donaldson vs. The Blue Jays” takes floating around today, because it’s January and there isn’t much else to talk about. The sides are resolute in their tribalism as that is life in these streets.
The Jays look bad and the fans tilting at windmills look bad. Mark Shapiro looks predictably bad and Ken Rosenthal helps some in the Jays front office look foolish. Everybody looks bad for everyone except for Josh Donaldson, since “Josh Donaldson looks bad” is dividing by zero.
This started out as a take, it was going to be about the “cost of Josh Donaldson” and how this kind of arbitration strife is exactly what the Blue Jays signed up for when they acquired a Super Two with MVP credentials from a poor team.
The recently departed opinion piece had its moments, including a passage depicting an awkward negotiation in which “Shapiro and Atkins finally set their “GO INDIANS” foam fingers down, push back from the table and storm out of the room, offering only a terse “see you in court” on their way back to Ohio for the night.”
It was going to be a decent take. Tepid perhaps, but good all the same.
Instead I keep coming back to something I “discovered” when looking at exactly how much Josh Donaldson will cost the Blue Jays in real dollars over the next three-to-nine years. I kept coming back to this:
Looking back up at this little chart and then daydreaming while clicking through this link and one starts to think maybe the Blue Jays don’t just ride’em hard and put’em away wet. Hopefully they want to stay in the “extremely good player” business for longer than their years of control permit.
Josh Donaldson is going to be a free agent after his age-32 season. There is very little the Blue Jays can do to deter the man that famously noted “Imma get mine” from testing free agency. He only gets one shot at this potential pay day, nobody should delude themselves into believing he’ll take anything other than top dollar from a deep-pocketed suitor given the chance. The Blue Jays can and will count themselves among those to come calling.
There is no incentive for Donaldson to take even one penny less than he’s earned, and the Blue Jays better be damn happy to pay for the privilege. The system is set up such that Donaldson has next to no incentive to do anything other than go year by year and bet on his own ability to stay healthy enough to keep the record-breaking raises coming.
Paying $20 million for a non-free agent player is the cost of Donaldson, the cost of greatness and the cost of flags designed to fly forever. Having one of your best players poised to jump at the highest bidder is the cost, too.
I like that great player business more than the marginal surplus value business, because watching a great and well-compensated player is better than the alternative. The great player business costs plenty. It will cost a nine-digit amount of dollars in 2019. And it could well be worth it.
For now, we need not concern ourselves with contract skirmishes and instead focus on the benefit side of this cost/benefit equation. Josh Donaldson plays for the Blue Jays now and probably for the next three years, too. Hopefully into the next decade as well. It depends on the numbers - numbers much larger than $450 000, that’s for sure.