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Yankees Potential Trade Target: Brendan Donovan

The lefty-hitting utility man had his 2023 campaign cut short by surgery to his throwing arm but remains an intriguing trade candidate.

MLB: JUL 18 Marlins at Cardinals Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Yankees’ roster has multiple needs to return to contention in 2024, perhaps too many to be addressed on the free agent market alone. The rotation and the outfield need the most immediate reinforcement; however, the Bomber could certainly stand to upgrade their third base and utility options, with both members of the disastrous 2022 trade with the Twins — Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa — no longer with the organization.

To that end, the Yankees could contact the Cardinals to inquire on Brendan Donovan’s availability.

2023 Statistics: 95 games, 371 PA, .284/.365/.422, 11 HR, 34 RBI, 118 wRC+, -1 Outs Above Average (2B), 2.1 fWAR

2024 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections: 122 games, 525 PA, .278/.368/.415, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 118 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR

Contract Status: Projected to earn near league minimum in third and final year of pre-arbitration eligibility. Free agent following 2027 season.

Donovan broke onto the scene with an impressive rookie campaign in 2022, slashing .281/.394/.379 with a 128 wRC+ in 126 games. He walked (12.8 percent walk rate) almost as much as he struck out (15 percent strikeout rate) while playing serviceable defense at all four infield and both corner outfield positions. All of this culminated in a third-place NL Rookie of the Year finish behind the Braves’ Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider and an almost three-win debut season.

He picked up where he left off in 2023, trading in some of those walks for a boost in the power department. But then injury struck, a flexor tendon strain in his throwing arm relegating Donovan to DH as he was unable to throw the ball, ultimately leading to season-ending surgery on August 2nd. He is expected to return in 2024, but may not be able to throw until the end of the season, again likely limiting him to DH and first base as we saw with Bryce Harper in 2023.

Donovan is a left-handed bat with fantastic bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline. His 12.8-percent walk rate in 2022 was 14th-best in the majors while his 14.3 percent strikeout rate in 2023 was 21st-best. His 19.9-percent chase rate in 2022 was tenth-lowest while his 12.8 percent whiff rate in 2023 was ninth-lowest. His .381 expected OBP in 2022 was sixth-highest while his .283 expected batting average in 2023 was 24th-highest. That’s an enticing mix of high contact, low chase, and on-base ability.

While Donovan is capable of fielding six different positions, has hasn’t proven to be particularly proficient at any of them. He’s finished both big league seasons with a negative OAA, the only above-average defensive production coming from 189 innings at third in 2022. It helped him earn a Gold Glove award that year as a utilityman extraordinaire, much like DJ LeMahieu.

Otherwise, Donovan has graded out as average or slightly below average at first, second, short, left, and right field. Much of this negative value comes from his poor range on account of below-average sprint speed, something he made up for with one of the stronger throwing arms in baseball. It is therefore concerning that his defensive value could tank even further if he’s slow to recover from the surgery to his throwing arm.

Scouring the league for potential trade partners this winter, there are few teams who line up better for a swap with the Yankees than the Cardinals. St. Louis is in desperate need of controllable starting pitching — reflected in the rumors linking the Cards to several of the arms at the top of the starting pitching market — and the Yankees have a selection of options on the major league roster. Clarke Schmidt, Luis Gil, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vásquez have flashed effectiveness for stretches in the majors while guys like Chase Hampton, Drew Thorpe, Will Warren. and Yoendrys Gómez are knocking on the door of the big leagues after making strides in the minors in 2023.

As for Donovan, it appears he may find playing time limited by a logjam in the Cardinals’ infield. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have the corners locked down for the near-future. Tommy Edman and Nolan Gorman seem to have firm grips on the middle infield jobs — Gorman perhaps leapfrogging Donovan in 2023 thanks to the latter’s missed time to injury, Gorman’s breakout campaign at the plate and his extra year of team control — with top prospect Masyn Winn waiting in the wings. That’s not to say Donovan can’t help the Cardinals in 2024 and beyond, but 2023 may have rendered him surplus to requirements.

Of course, Yankees fans are no strangers to the risks of penciling in recently injured players to starting roles on the team. FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projection have already baked in 40 missed games in 2024, though it’s unclear if this is in anticipation of a delayed return from injury or losing playing time to the infield logjam. The fact Donovan will likely be unavailable to play anything other than DH and first also makes him less useful to next season’s Yankees.

That shouldn’t dissuade the Yankees from inquiring on his cost. He’s a player who can help the team years down the road, not becoming a free agent until after the 2027 season, and at near the league minimum would be negligible addition to the payroll. Of course, this team control and affordable contract raise his trade value, but it shouldn’t require the Yankees’ very top prospects to move the needle. When healthy, his lefty bat and high-contact approach would add some much needed variability to the Yankees lineup.