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Aaron Boone shouldn’t be so confident in Josh Donaldson

Despite struggling over the course of 2022, the Yankees’ manager expressed faith in Donaldson heading into 2023.

Josh Donaldson Strikes Out against the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the 2022 ALCS Photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

Earlier this week, I wrote an article detailing five priorities for the New York Yankees’ front office for the upcoming busy winter, and third base is one of them. Josh Donaldson failed to get it done at the plate throughout the season, slashing .222/.308/.374 with a wRC+ of 97, the worst of his 12-year career. The soon-to-be 37-year-old infielder is owed $21 million for the 2023 season, plus $6 million in 2024 to avoid the remaining $16 million option on his contract.

Considering Donaldson’s production in his first campaign in Yankees pinstripes, he will need a remarkably resurgent next season if he wants to convince everyone that he’s worth the money he’s being paid. Nonetheless, Aaron Boone apparently has plenty of confidence in the veteran infielder to return to form in the 2023 season.

In an interview on WFAN for The Michael Kay Show, the Yankees’ skipper was asked about Donaldson starting at third base next year, given his poor hitting performance. Boone was unwavering in his support, saying, “As we sit here right now, absolutely. He’s been an offensive machine for the best part of his career. I think it was one of those years where he was searching for that consistency.”

Before everyone freaks out, it’s important to remember that the likelihood of Boone throwing his players under the bus is not remotely high. He’s known for protecting his players (also doing so with Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the very same interview), whether on the field or off of it, and considering that Donaldson is still under contract, an appearance on The Michael Kay Show isn’t going to change anything. He’s most likely doing what any manager would do when questioned about the underperformance of a player immediately after the season.

Still, Boone’s words should raise some eyebrows, especially after he doubled down on his defense in a Friday press conference at Yankee Stadium. The way that Donaldson approached the plate was not of someone that was “searching for consistency.” Instead, he looked like a player who Father Time eventually caught up to. His approach was off most of the time, as evidenced by the number of hanging curveballs and fastballs down the middle that he stared at all the way.

Exhibit A:

Justin Verlander is a great pitcher; his curveball has devastated pitchers the entire time he has been in Major League Baseball. However, it just hung there, and I’m not entirely sure why Donaldson didn’t try to take a hack, at least.

Here’s another odd Donaldson take on a knuckle-curve:

And below is one that Donaldson apparently thought was below the zone, given the look on his face, but clearly, it was not.

I wish that we were just taking a few Donaldson at-bats out of context, but this was far from an unusual occurrence in 2022. There are more reels of him taking fat pitches, as well.

With 148 K’s, Donaldson struck out more than he has in any season of his career except for 2019 with the Braves (155). Of course, that was still a productive year with a 131 wRC+ compared to his aforementioned 97 in 2022, and he also only had more strikeouts because in 2019, he played in 23 more games. Donaldson’s K-percentage was a career-worst 27.1 percent, as he he continued to watch pitches hang and go right down the middle without even appearing to make an effort at a serious swing.

Boone was correct in his assessment earlier in the offseason that Donaldson should have been a Gold Glove finalist. However, the faith in him to return to the level we saw even in 2021 is very likely misplaced. His playoff failures sealed the deal for many fans, and while Boone won’t be vocal about any reservations on Michael Kay’s radio show, there should certainly be some concerns.