MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi reported yesterday morning that the St. Louis Cardinals are interested in trading for Toronto Blue Jays’ 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson but “have not had any formal discussions.”
Now, full disclosure here, while I understand that Morosi has to have something to base this report off of, it does seem a little dumb when you step back to think about it. I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in trading for a player that is 2nd in the American League in WAR since 2015.
But, when I read about the Cardinals’ interest in Donaldson, I was immediately intrigued. Normally when I hear about the Cardinals having interest in a big name player, I brush things off and take it with a grain of salt; I mean, aside from St. Louis having a very conservative approach to player acquisition over the past several years, it is just a rumor.
But I’m intrigued because Donaldson to St. Louis just makes so much sense to me. So, to answer the question I posed in the title of this article…
Yes times 50,000.
About a month ago, Ben Markham over at Viva El Birdos broke down what he believed it would take for the Cardinals to land Josh Donaldson. To summarize, Markham pull together several packages all based upon the concept of ‘surplus value’ – based upon the market price of WAR and a player’s projected WAR, how much ‘surplus’ do they create?
Donaldson’s projected surplus value over the 2017 and 2018 seasons that he would be under guaranteed team control is $56.7 million. Fangraphs projects a 5.5 WAR 2018 season for Donaldson at $9.5 market WAR value, creating a tremendous value of $52 million.
Now, 5.5 WAR is an aggressive projection for a 32 year old coming off of an injury prone season, but it still feels reasonable for a superstar like Donaldson.
So, as I was initially brainstorming the idea of a St. Louis Cardinals trade for Josh Donaldson, the package that I immediately put together in my head was Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, and either Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty.
In Markham’s article, he centers each of his proposed trade packages around Kolten Wong; understandably so. Wong is under team control through 2020 with a 2021 team option year on a friendly extension that pays him an average salary of $5.1 million.
Wong’s projected surplus value while under team control is $37.4 million, and while that’s a nice number, it doesn’t match up with Donaldson’s. However, Wong is still the centerpiece of my trade concept for several reasons.
Firstly, the potentially 4 years of team control are an attractive commodity to the Blue Jays and it’s the type of attribute that the Cardinals will need to give up in order to entice Toronto into giving up one of their franchise faces.
Secondly, depending on how Toronto views itself right now, Wong could be exactly the type of player they are looking for. Young, controllable and cheap, yet ready to produce right away at the Major League level. I believe that the Blue Jays view themselves as a contender having a down year, meaning that they will look to trade Donaldson for several pieces that can help them win as soon as possible.
And lastly from the Cardinals’ perspective, Kolten Wong is expendable. There’s a lot to dive into on this topic, but just to shorten my reasons I’ll just put it this way: Paul DeJong > Kolten Wong.
I can’t speak for Toronto in this situation because my proposed return package going back to them is speculative and does feel light when considering just how good Donaldson has been. But 4 cheap years of Kolten Wong, 4 years of Randal Grichuk, and 6 years of Luke Weaver is an attractive package for your 32 year old 3rd baseman who appears set to walk after his contract is up in 2018.
From the Cardinals point of view, if a Wong, Grichuk and Weaver for Donaldson deal goes through during this July trade window, I believe that it solves all of the Cardinals’ issues in the foreseeable future.
Donaldson slots in at 3rd base and immediately becomes a big time bat right in the middle of a currently thin Cardinals line up. Jedd Gyorko, currently receiving the lion’s share of at-bats among St. Louis’ currently employed 3rd base options, would move to 2nd base full time and Paul DeJong would take over at shortstop with Matt Carpenter still holding down the fort at 1st base.
Mike Matheny has a track record of mucking up things with the Cardinals that make sense, but moving Wong for Donaldson seems to set the Cardinals’ infield for at least the next 2 years.
Leaving the Cardinals for Toronto with Wong would be Randal Grichuk, and with Dexter Fowler’s return off of the DL the Cardinals now have 4 starting caliber outfield mouths to feed with only 3 spots. Tommy Pham isn’t moving, Fowler isn’t moving, and Piscotty isn’t moving, which leaves Grichuk as the odd man out anyway so you might as well do him a favor and give him a change of scenery.
Bang, another problem solved.
But, the biggest issue that a Donaldson trade would solve for the Cardinals is the lack of a true #3 hitter.
Between Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, Jedd Gyorko, Dexter Fowler, and even Paul DeJong, the Cardinals have a bunch of guys all suited to be a #2 or #5 hitter. None of those guys are a true #3 hitter.
So, what is a true #3 hitter and why does Josh Donaldson fit that bill?
From a numbers standpoint, your #3 hitter should be the best run producer in the lineup. In a perfect world he will be the hitter with the most opportunities to drive in runs, so it makes sense that he be your lineup’s best run producer. Josh Donaldson has driven in 93, 98, 123, and 122 runs in his past 4 respective seasons. Those RBI totals would have ranked 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 1st on the Cardinals during each season.
Best run producer? You bet Josh Donaldson fits that bill.
But, the other part about a true #3 hitter that is much harder to quantify is the presence that your #3 brings to the plate.
A make or break aspect of being the 3rd hitter in a batting order is the confidence that you bring to the plate. The #3 hitter is expected to be the best in the lineup, and that pressure follows you up to the plate every time you step into the box. I’ve never been a successful #3 hitter because I’ve never had the confidence in myself to succeed under that pressure and I haven’t seen a Cardinals player that can say any differently.
Josh Donaldson oozes confidence when he steps into the box.
Josh Donaldson gets offended whenever a pitcher throws him a strike because he knows the damage that he can do to a baseball.
In 1087 Toronto at bats as the #3 hitter, Donaldson has a .934 OPS with 72 home runs and 201 RBI’s. For comparison, Matt Carpenter, the guy the Cardinals tried to push into the #3 hole at the start of the season, held a .723 OPS over 159 AB’s with only 7 home runs and 28 RBI’s.
Putting Josh Donaldson in the #3 hole completely transforms the Cardinal lineup.
Carpenter is able to settle back into his leadoff role like he has – since moving back to the top spot, Carpenter has a .437 OBP with 6 HR’s and 16 RBI’s. Tommy Pham can lock into the #2 hole. Jedd Gyorko can be the #4 hitter, Dexter Fowler #5, Stephen Piscotty can bump down to #6 and take the pressure of being the #3 hitter off his shoulders, Yadi in the 7, Paul DeJong in the 8.
Every #3 hitter that Mike Matheny has penciled onto his lineup card this year has felt like a square peg being forced into a round hole. Being able to pencil Donaldson into the #3 hole every day immediately lengthens the lineup and transforms the Cardinal order.
Don’t believe that a true #3 hitter can make a difference? Go take a look at the Dodgers.
Justin Turner (and Cody Bellinger) made his season debut on April 25th and has taken every one of his 2017 at bats in the #3 hole of the Dodgers’ order. Los Angeles is 51-18 since Turner took over as the #3.
Donaldson can make that kind of impact in the Cardinals order.
2017 has gifted the St. Louis Cardinals a sub-.500 Chicago Cubs team and a weak Milwaukee Brewers team leading the NL Central division. Even with both of these presents, St. Louis will still find a way to be under .500 at the All-Star break.
Trading for Josh Donaldson is risky, but it’s a division changing move. The Cardinals will win the Central if they make this move.
Take it to the bank.
Thanks for reading.