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Yankees 2023 Roster Report Card: Josh Donaldson

Sometimes you just need to go to a different school.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

If Gerrit Cole was the straight-A student who was a pleasure to have in class, Josh Donaldson spent his school year playing hooky, starting fights in the hallways, and vaping in the bathroom before administration finally had enough and decided he needed to be another school’s problem. I suppose there exists a universe in which Josh Donaldson has some kind of reunion with the New York Yankees this offseason, but ours certainly isn’t one of them.

Donaldson played his last game in pinstripes on July 15th before the team finally cut bait on his sunk-cost contract, allowing him to latch on for 19 games with Milwaukee late in the year — where, in a cruel twist of fate, he played in two more playoff games in 2023 than anyone on the Yankees roster. Life is funny like that.

Grade: F

2023 Statistics: (NYY) 33 games, 120 PA, .142/.225/.434, 10 HR, 75 wRC+, .276 wOBA, 0.0 fWAR

2024 Contract Status: Free agent

Contrasting with most of the Yankees we’ve discussed so far in this year’s Report Card series, there’s not really a whole lot to say here. Donaldson is a free agent, and he seems likely to be a free agent for a while, and it’ll likely be a question of which camp he winds up in on a minor league deal late in the offseason. That’s because Donaldson looked thoroughly washed from the moment he took the field this season, and at age-37, I’m not one to bet on a rebound being in the cards.

In quite a few ways, Donaldson was one of the most direct embodiments of the numerous issues that have been dampening the mood in the Bronx since the middle of last season. Acquired in a deal that didn’t make much sense at the time and has only aged more poorly since, Donaldson missed about a month’s worth of time in 2022, and his injury issues once again manifested in 2023, sidelining him just five games into the season with a hamstring injury. He hadn’t been great in the spring, and whatever juice he might have had left at the start of the season was completely gone by the time he returned in June. Though his bat speed remained intact, as he and Aaron Boone made clear, the other components of his swing simply looked aged.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at New York Yankees Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Donaldson hit two home runs in his first game back, another two days later, and after that, registered just 10 more hits in 25 games with the Yankees, six of which were home runs, until re-injuring his calf on July 15 against Colorado. With that calf injury deemed significant, Donaldson went on the 60-day injured list, and on August 29, with roster expansions looming, the Yankees simply cut him and the month’s worth of salary left on his contract.

If there’s anything noteworthy about his season, it’s that had it ended with his removal from the Yankees roster, he would have been the first player in MLB history to finish with at least 10 home runs and fewer than 10 singles in a single. Unfortunately (for those of us interested in seeing history, at least) , allowing him to latch on with Milwaukee ruined his chances, as he picked up another 15 singles (to just three dingers) to bring his 2023 production to a close with a 78 wRC+, just a touch higher than it was with the Yankees.

Donaldson was an instigator, widely disliked around MLB and with a well-earned reputation for causing friction in clubhouses. 2023 didn’t see any incidents as explosive as his suspension-worthy insult of Tim Anderson in 2022, but in a Yankees locker room that clearly had a few issues already, he’s not the kind of personality to spread calm and put out fires. They won’t miss him in 2024, and his free agent market ought to tell us a bit about how much the rest of the league misses him, too.