The New York Yankees didn't make a move for one of the big-name shortstops in the offseason, but the front office added an impactful bat via trade. At least that was the hope heading into the season with the Josh Donaldson trade.
The Yankees justifiably felt like third base needed an upgrade on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. Josh Donaldson wasn't the MVP-type player the Yanks got all too used to seeing in Toronto. Still, his production over the past three seasons was well above average and indicative of one of the better third basemen in the American League.
The expectations were high for Donaldson, and look no further than that the front office agreed to take on his entire contract to understand. Donaldson is set to make $21.75 million in this year and the next, and has a $16 million team option for the 2024 season with a $6 million buyout.
Despite the high points of the 2022 season, Donaldson has been one of the more disappointing players in this Yankees defense. His overall production has remained positive mainly due to his elite glovework (ranking in the 96th percentile in Outs Above Average), but the bat has hovered around league average.
If you look at Donaldson's last three years before coming over to New York, he had a .865 OPS from 2019 through 2021. Yes, he was no longer the same player, but he was a staple in the Braves ('19) and Twins ('20 & '21) lineups. He has been anything but that for the Yankees, and there are few encouraging signs for a turnaround.
Donaldson is carrying a 28.1 K% and 9.1 BB% in 2022, well below his career averages of 20.6 and 12.4, respectively. The Yankees' third baseman notoriously mashed fastballs throughout his career, and although his .457 SLG against them is far from terrible (especially in comparison with his own total SLG), it's the worst he's ever had with the lowest percentage of fastballs he's ever received (51.5). The production against breaking balls is nonexistent.
There is not a lot of optimism that Donaldson will turn this season around, and the underlying numbers back that up. His .321 xwOBA is hardly anything to write home about, and the hard hit rate is down from last season. The disappointment has been such that it brings up the question of what the Yankees will do with Donaldson in 2023. As was stated above, the Yankees believed he'd be the third baseman, and his $21 million salary backs that up for next year plus the $6 million buyout for 2024.
The Yankees haven't had much success with trade acquisitions on the hitting front as of late, but neither Joey Gallo nor Andrew Benintendi, who is still finding his footing as a Yankee, was locked up long-term like Donaldson is. One can't help but wonder if the front office will at least kick the tires on moving off him in the following offseason. After all, that's a hefty sum for a player who's only contributing on one side of the ball.
The fact the front office is also in a similarly stuck situation with Aaron Hicks, but all the more heightened over his far worse struggles, brings up the question or possibility that the team will prioritize moving off of him and simply going another year with Donaldson understanding he'll still bring great defensive value at the hot corner.
Overall, this situation brings light to recent decisions that haven't exactly worked out for the Yankees. Ultimately Donaldson still has enough value that the front office likely can find a suitor for him, especially if they're willing to eat some of that contract. Still, with other more pressing issues (namely Hicks), you have to wonder if they'll genuinely consider that.