The Atlanta Braves did some shopping of their own on Cyber Monday, signing free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year contract. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the deal is worth $23 million for the one year.
Donaldson will earn exactly the same amount he earned in the 2018 season during his final year of arbitration as he split his time between Toronto and Cleveland.
This is an aggressive but low-risk move for the Braves, who are coming off a 90-win season that saw them win the National League East division for the first time since 2013. The one-year contract is a sort of “make good” deal for Donaldson, who was hampered by injuries throughout the 2018 campaign. He can reestablish his value while occupying the middle of a fast-emerging, vaunted Braves lineup. For Atlanta, the deal gives the team a powerful right-handed bat to complement Freddie Freeman, as well as a veteran presence on youth-dominant roster. The one-year contract also gives the Braves flexibility should they choose to move Donaldson at the trade deadline next season.
Donaldson, despite his injuries, still managed to produce enough to convince the Braves to break out the checkbook for him. He hit .246 with eight home runs in just 52 games in 2018. However, Donaldson showed a slight return to form, albeit in a limited sample size, after he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians at the waiver deadline. He hit .280 with three home runs and a .400 on-base percentage in 16 games with Cleveland in the final month of the regular season.
Donaldson will benefit from an entire offseason to regain his form and his health and, in so doing, could return to top form and become a potent force in the middle of Atlanta’s lineup. The Braves now have an intimidating batting order consisting of reigning National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr., standout second baseman Ozzie Albies, Freeman, and Donaldson at the top of their lineup.
The Braves also added veteran catcher Brian McCann to the mix on Monday. McCann, whom Atlanta drafted back in 2002 in the second round, will join Tyler Flowers as part of the Braves battery behind the plate.
The only issue still remaining for the Braves concerns the right field position, which is currently vacant. Nick Markakis is a free agent and, while there is still a chance that he could return to Atlanta, it is more likely that he will seek a multi-year deal elsewhere. While there are undoubtedly some Atlanta hopefuls who are linking the team to free agent superstar Bryce Harper, it is unlikely that the team would spend that kind of money, especially after giving $25 million to Donaldson and McCann.
Regardless of what happens in right field, there is no doubt that the addition of Donaldson has added a lot of power and sizzle to the Braves lineup. The biggest concern around Donaldson remains his health and his ability to play a full season. He has not played more than 120 games since 2016, and his production has wained slightly because of that.
The addition of two established and motivated veterans such as Donaldson and McCann can be hugely beneficial to a young, up-and-coming team like Atlanta. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that it will be the young stars like Acuna, Albies, and Dansby Swanson who will one day lead the Braves back to prominence in the National League. However, for the moment, those young players will have the opportunity to learn and grow while playing with a good mix of veteran leaders, and that can only mean good things for the future of the Atlanta Braves.