The Yankees have landed the biggest prize of the 2019-2020 offseason with the signing of Gerrit Cole, but there is more business to be done before the offseason will be considered complete. Now Brian Cashman and the front office will have to continue looking at all available options to finish rounding out what is arguably the best roster in baseball. All positions have been evaluated and with the emergence of Gio Urshela and the expected return of Miguel Andujar, third base does not seems like a priority for the Yankees. That is where Josh Donaldson comes in.
After struggling in 2018, Donaldson rebounded this past season in a big way for Atlanta. While Donaldson was a key piece of the Braves’ team on both sides of the ball, the Yankees witnessed the breakout of Gio Urshela. With Urshela coming off his surprise season and Miguel Andjuar coming back from injury, how much of an upgrade could Donaldson be? He is coming off a 2019 season with Atlanta where he provided a 4.9 fWAR. He hit .259/.379/.521, good for an identical 132 wRC+ with Urshela. Andujar’s rookie season saw him produce a 130 wRC+. Since Donaldson’s first full season with Oakland in 2013, he has only had one season below 130 wRC+, and that was his injury-plagued 2018 campaign. Donaldson is a proven bat, yet that is not where he separates from the Yankees’ in-house options.
As impressed as Yankees fans were with Gio Urshela’s defense, he was still slightly below league average for the 2019 season. Advanced fielding metrics show him registering a minus 4 Defensive Runs Saved, and a below average UZR. Despite rating out as a below-average defender, Urshela’s defense stood out to Yankees fan who had witnessed Miguel Andjuar turn in one of the worst defensive seasons by a third baseman on record in 2018. Donaldson is coming off a season where he he registered 15 Defensive Runs Saved. His solid defense is not a fluke, as Donaldson has never found himself in the negative for this category as a major leaguer. The Houston team that eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs this past season led the American League in Defensive Runs Saved, and Donaldson provides an opportunity to close that gap.
At the beginning of the offseason MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Donaldson, who turned 34 earlier this month, would land a three-year deal worth $75M. They recently updated their assessment to say that sources around baseball are now thinking that Donaldson will land a four-year deal. The concern is that his 2018 struggles were directly tied to injuries. He battled inflammation in his throwing shoulder, and then landed on the 60-day injured list as a result of a lingering calf injury. As he heads into his late 30’s, it’s questionable whether he will be able to maintain the outstanding defense that is a significant portion of his value. One other concern for the Yankees is that signing Donaldson who turned down a Qualifying Offer at the beginning of the offseason, would cost them draft pick compensation, in addition to what they have already lost by signing Gerrit Cole. This would be an additional organizational cost.
Josh Donaldson is not a perfect fit for the Yankees, but he is likely to provide an upgrade at third base over two strong in-house candidates. What extent are the Yankees willing to spend in order to upgrade a position? Donaldson’s track record is much longer and stronger than either Gio Urshela or Miguel Andujar. He would also open the door for one or both to be traded leading to additional upgrades to the roster. The Yankees have already struck aggressively to sign the player they wanted most this offseason, we will now see how they view the rest of the market driving forward.