The Perfect Place for Josh Donaldson in Free Agency is… Houston?

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Bryce Harper. Manny Machado. Dallas Keuchel. Craig Kimbrel. Patrick Corbin.

The 2018-19 free agency class in Major League Baseball is, at the top, as talented as any in the long history of the game. Ace-caliber pitchers, a potentially Hall-worthy closer, and of course, generationally talented sluggers. However, there’s one intriguing name without a contract for the 2019 year that could be a potential steal on a cheap contract, and that guy just so happens to be a former American League Most Valuable Player Award winner.

And heck, wouldn’t he fit well on the Houston Astros? Josh Donaldson — through injuries, a weirdly-executed trade, and early-season struggles — had a bit of an off year in 2018. Between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians, Donaldson slashed .246/.352/.449 with eight home runs, 23 RBIs, and a 119 OPS+. However, even though he played just 52 games due to injuries, the three-time MLB All-Star was an above average hitter by OPS+.

In addition, Donaldson hit .280 with three long balls in the 16 games he played in September for Cleveland, indicating he still had something left in him when he got healthy again. And at 33, he isn’t finished tearing the cover off the ball and playing his customary above-average defense even as he enters the later parts of his accomplished career. Donaldson ranked as a plus defender at third base in FanGraphs’ defensive runs saved (one) and Ultimate Zone Rating (1.3).

With Josh Donaldson available in free agency, and the Houston Astros seeking a big bat, the two parties are a match made in heaven, writes @TomDorsa.Click To Tweet

So why would he go to the Astros, with the talent they have? Should he not sign with a team where he can be the A1 option? Well, Donaldson and the Blue Jays failed to reach an agreement on a long-term extension before the August trade to Cleveland, as Donaldson exhibited a desire to play for a contender rather than a transitioning team like the Jays. For a shot at a title, he embraced his role with the Tribe despite being an auxiliary player to established stars like Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor.

He can do the same with the Astros, and Houston really needs the help. After their bats went cold against Boston in the AL Championship Series in October, especially in Games 3 and 5, the need for a big, middle-of-the-order bat was apparent. Now, with Swiss army knife Marwin Gonzalez and catchers Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado on their way out, help with power at the dish is more of a necessity than ever.

He would hit behind George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel, but could embrace his role as a secondary option in the lineup and flourish. Offensively, it’s a match made in heaven for the Astros and for Donaldson, who could boost his numbers in a home run-heavy Minute Maid Park and regain confidence in a hitter’s park.

Defensively, the situation becomes a little murky, but there is one simple solution: Donaldson and Correa are both injury-prone infielders with similar skillsets, while Bregman is a consistent, reliable star with the capability to play shortstop and third base. In the event of struggles or injuries, Donaldson, Correa, and Bregman can share responsibilities on the left side of the infield and rearrange the defense accordingly.

If they are all at 100% health simultaneously, one could hypothetically fill the designated hitter role with Evan Gattis likely hitting free agency. Or, AJ Hinch and the Astros can take a page out of the Chicago Cubs’ book and play one of their infield stars in left field, a la Kris Bryant, to make things work at the plate.

Though he isn’t as safe of a bet as Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in terms of production, his contract will also be cheaper by hundreds of millions of dollars. Perhaps, as Donaldson is looking to rebound after a physically-damaged 2018, the Astros could offer him a one-year contract in the $10-$15 million range as a “show-me” deal.

The Astros have a historically talented rotation, headlined by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, premier position players like Springer, Altuve, and Bregman, and a stranglehold on the AL West Division, which Houston has won two years in a row. Josh Donaldson is a struggling former MVP looking for a rebound and a World Series championship.

It’s a win-win, and the two parties would be smart to agree on a contract for the 2019 season.

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