Josh Donaldson, 34, is arguably the best player left on the free agent market. The 2015 American League Most Valuable Player Award recipient has four teams on his tail and/or who have been repeatedly linked to him: the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Coming off a bounce-back season where he totaled 37 home runs and 94 RBIs while posting a .900 OPS and playing a stellar third base, Donaldson proved he’s still one of the preeminent third basemen in Major League Baseball. Out of the four teams pursuing his services, which team needs him the most?
The need for a corner infield exists in Minnesota with the organization non-tendering first baseman C.J. Cron. Could Donaldson fill a void with the Twins? Sure, they could move Miguel Sano to first base and further weaponize their depth chart. At the same time, this is an offense that was first in MLB in home runs (307) and total bases (2,832) last season.
The Twins should’ve spent the big bucks on starting pitching. Their continued interest in Donaldson comes off as them spending top dollar for the sake of making headlines. This would be an expensive way to mask a weakness.
The Dodgers have chased big names all offseason, and they’d probably be open to giving Donaldson a hefty contract if L.A. was his desired destination. An infield rotation of Donaldson, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, and Enrique Hernandez, among others would be lethal.
On the other hand, it’s not as if signing Donaldson alters the Dodgers’ chances of winning the National League pennant. He’d add to their offensive arsenal and hit in the middle of their order, but he’s not versatile. Manager Dave Roberts loves to move players around the diamond; Donaldson has played just 20 games outside of his natural position (third base) in his big-league career.
In this scenario, the Dodgers would be moving Turner, a fixture at the hot corner, to second base. It wouldn’t be a bad signing, but the Dodgers can likely accumulate Donaldson’s production with the pieces already in place.
Donaldson’s monster 2019 campaign was an integral reason why the Braves won the NL East for a second consecutive season — although the division rival Nationals won the World Series. He rounded out a formidable lineup, hitting behind Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman. He drove in the speedsters and forced teams to pitch to Freeman.
Meanwhile, Donaldson was a part of an elite infield with Freeman, Albies, and Dansby Swanson. If you remove Donaldson from the equation, the Braves lose a monumental bat and glove. He also seems to be loved by their fan base. Losing him would sting all parties involved.
The 2019 Braves had the talent to win the World Series. Keeping the band together while Acuna, Albies, and Swanson continue to improve forecasts well for the organization. Losing the bass player would threaten the band’s well-being.
On the other hand, the Braves could plug Johan Camargo at third base (Camargo made 114 appearances at third base in 2018). They could also make a trade for Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant. Granted it would cost an enormous amount of assets to pry one of them away from their respective teams, especially the Colorado Rockies with Arenado, the Braves have one of the best farm systems in MLB. They’re a contender with the assets to make a trade of this magnitude.
The Nationals need Donaldson.
They made the decision to pay Stephen Strasburg, the 2019 World Series MVP, over Anthony Rendon, a finalist for the NL MVP, this offseason. Washington did as such because their MO is prioritizing starting pitching and relying on their ability to groom position players (Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and perhaps Victor Robles); they can justify this.
However, they have a gaping hole at third base. Rendon is one of the best players in the sport, and there’s no “replacing” him, but Donaldson is their best option. There was never a succession plan for Rendon; finding an internal replacement involved the Nationals playing someone out of position.
Sure, their top prospect, Carter Kieboom, played three positions in the minors last season, but it seems the Nationals project him as a future second baseman (he made 62 appearances at shortstop, his natural position, 41 at second, and 10 at third in Triple A last season).
The Nationals can contend for the NL pennant again in 2020 with Donaldson. He’d hit in the middle of their order, bolster their infield defense, and provide power. Couple a well-rounded offense with arguably the game’s best starting rotation (Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez), and the Nationals are a potent foe. His presence keeps them in contention. Him setting up a tent elsewhere and no trade could peg the Nationals behind the Braves and New York Mets in the NL East going into spring training.