What would Josh Donaldson have looked like in Boston’s red and white, instead of Toronto’s blue?
That’s the question many Boston Red Sox fans will ask themselves, if they haven’t already, when they learn that former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said that he tried making a trade for Donaldson in the last offseason. Alex Speier of The Boston Globe tweeted Cherington’s words on Saturday:
It’s no secret that the Red Sox were desperate to fix the problem at third base for years, but whatever was offered to the Athletics wasn’t enough for Oakland general manager Billy Beane.
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Apparently, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos knew what turned Beane’s crank. On November 28th, 2014, the Athletics sent Donaldson north-east for Brett Lawrie, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolan, and Franklin Barreto. The move was made, as always in Oakland, for money issues. Donaldson was set to make $4.3 million this season with earliest arbitration in 2016 and free agency in 2019. Beane must have felt that gaining four young players for minimal cash was better than one all-star third baseman for a ton of cash.
That moneybag is going to be getting a great deal heavier, too. The 29-year-old righty bat from Pensacola, Florida is having the best season of his life, with possible MVP notions dancing around all of Major League Baseball. In 2014, Donaldson, known on Twitter as @BringerOfRain20, hit 29 home runs and 98 RBIs in 608 at-bats, with a slash line of .255/.342/.456. This season, he’s brought the rain down upon many a pitcher, bashing 34 homers and 100 RBIs in only 480 at-bats, with a slash line of .302/.370/.585. And, it’s only August. MLB.com projects that Donaldson should end the 2015 regular season with 41 homers and 122 RBIs.
If you want a more direct comparison to another third baseman, instead of a stellar center fielder, let’s look at Pablo Sandoval of the Red Sox.
No, don’t look away in terror. It will be alright. You’re safe. You’re just reading an article; you won’t get hurt. At least, not physically. Emotionally, no promises. The three-time World-Series-winning Kung Fu Panda has hit 10 home runs and 40 RBIs, with a slash line of .259/.309/.394 in 401 at-bats. Granted that Donaldson has played 122 games to Sandoval’s 109, the averages are still pretty different, let alone the production numbers.
Aug 17, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Defensively, Sandoval’s 14 errors and .945 fielding percentage is pretty close to Donaldson’s 16 errors and .955. So, why all the drama about Sandoval’s defense? It’s about optics. When Donaldson makes an error, he’s trying to do too much, attempting to throw out a runner at first base after just chasing down a grounder that no mortal man dared bother. Sandoval’s errors are from routine groundballs, when he had plenty of time to set his feet and, yet, still threw the ball 20 yards away from the first baseman. His embarrassing and mistimed flops to defend bunts are seen as childish compared to Donaldson’s full-out dives into the stands in foul territory and making the catches for important outs.
If we were only looking at their offensive numbers in Fenway Park this season, some people may feel that the above comparison may be a bit unfair. In 26 at-bats, Donaldson has hit .269/.345/.385 with a home run and three RBIs. In 193 at-bats, Sandoval has hit .306/.350/.456 with four homers and 23 RBIs. Obviously, the sample-sizes are not the same, but it’s interesting to note that Sandoval’s rate of homers and RBIs per at-bat are 2% and 12%, while Donaldson’s are 3% and 12%, respectively.
Would Donaldson have hit the same as Sandoval if he would have called Boston home? Very tough to say, between different pitching staffs and hitters surrounding him in the lineups, but highly unlikely. All we can determine is what has become concrete evidence, with Donaldson having chants of ‘MVP, MVP, MVP’ pumping him up while Sandoval has boos deafening him back to the $95 million that helps him sleep at night for the last 34 games and the next four years.
Does Cherington regret it? Not likely. He couldn’t force Oakland to make a trade if the deal wouldn’t have helped the Athletics make up for Donaldson’s worth. And, it’s not like the Red Sox were looking forward to getting rid of a ton of their prospects, considering many of them were needed this season to be starters in other positions, as many of the veterans were injured or played poorly.
That’s the thing about trades: you never quite know what you’re getting into until you see the final product on the field. Sandoval hasn’t played that much more poorly than he did last year; Cherington was just trying to fill a hole that had been in Boston’s infield for a long time. Even if he moved heaven and earth for Donaldson, the Red Sox would likely still be in the American League East basement, without more moves made. The Blue Jays had the right mix of players to make Beane say yes to the deal: a third baseman hitting .270, a minor-league shortstop in Class-A Advanced ball, a lefty pitching prospect with a 2.56 ERA in Triple-A Nashville, and a righty pitcher with a 6-9 record and a 4.05 ERA for the Athletics.
It would be interesting to know which Red Sox players were in Cherington’s trade plans for Donaldson, if those Blue Jays assets were good enough for Oakland. All that Red Sox Nation can do now is wonder what it’s like to have a third baseman who doesn’t need to leave a game, after running from first to home plate, because of ‘dehydration’.
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