Just Release Josh Donaldson
by EJ Fagan
March 13, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.
Way back on February 21st, here was one of the first things we heard about the Yankees infield competition:
Boone’s framing is technically correct. There is some probability that Josh Donaldson will be better than his 1.6 fWAR last season. However, he’s more likely to be as bad or worse in 2023 than he was in 2022, because he will be 37 years old. Here is the average aging curve for MLB hitting:
Donaldson is riding the steepest parts of the aging curve. Some players defy the trend, but most start to see their offensive abilities evaporate in their late-30s. Given that Donaldson is coming the worst offensive season of his career, it’s probably safe to bet on his decline accelerating rather than a return to form.
But Donaldson isn’t worthless:
He’s still an elite defender. When he makes contact, he hits the ball pretty hard. He can take a walk. If the Yankees didn’t have any better options, they could do worse than Josh Donaldson.
The Yankees Are Better Without Josh Donaldson
You know the Spring Training story. The Yankees have too many infielders. They are going to have to demote, trade or cut two players before the season starts. The Oswaldos and especially Volpe are looking like major league players in Spring Training.
I think Donaldson is an easy cut. The two best Yankee veterans are DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres. If Donaldson is in the lineup, the other two can’t be. Unlike Isaiah Kiner-Falefa, he has no real utility off the bench. He’s a poor hitter, slow and can only play one position. Even without thinking about the potential of the young players, playing Donaldson makes the Yankees worse.
And then there’s the problem of the young players. Even if Peraza is the starting shortstop, Volpe needs a spot to play. With Donaldson, the Yankees are two injuries away from Volpe starting most days. Without him, a LeMahieu or Torres injury means that it’s Volpe time. Plus, Oswaldo Cabrera probably needs some time in the infield.
Donaldson Doesn’t Make the Yankee Infield Much Deeper
Maybe even if Donaldson makes the Yankees worse, he’s worth keeping around for depth. Volpe can be optioned down. Cabrera can sit on the bench and play a little outfield. Injuries happen. The Yankees might regret letting him go when the injured list starts to get crowded.
Here’s the thing though: the Yankees have an embarrassment of riches all over the infield. They have three players who have played third, four who have played shortstop and six (!) who have played second. If they are dipping into the Wilmer Difo pool this season, something has gone very wrong.
I think as Yankee fans we’ve all been a little traumatized by the injuries of 2018-2020. The Yankees had to dip far into their reserves every season. That was abnormal. Everyone in the Yankee infield except for LeMahieu has a strong record of staying healthy. The Yankees don’t need to be exceptionally cautious about depth just because it happened in the past.
No One Is Going to Take Donaldson’s Salary
Donaldson is owed $21.75 million in 2023, plus and $8 million buyout in 2024. I’m sure the Yankees tried pretty hard this offseason to offload some portion of that salary, but he’s still here. If he were less of a pain in the ass in the clubhouse or a little better on the field, maybe some fringe contender would take a few million dollars of his salary.
I think it’s about time to close the book on the Donaldson trade possibility. We haven’t heard any rumors that the Yankees are even discussing a trade with anyone. No obvious contending teams need a third baseman. No up-and-coming team wants him in their clubhouse. I’m not convinced that he could secure a major league job even if he were paid the minimum. Maybe some team thinks he is worth a few million dollars, but that’s not much different for the Yankees than releasing him.
Just Release Him
I get it. Flushing $30 million dollars down the drain feels wasteful. The Donaldson/IKF trade is going to go down as a rare Cashman flop. But that money is a sunk cost. They are going to pay it regardless of whether or not he is on the roster. If the Yankees are better off without Donaldson and no one is going to take him off their hands, they might as well rip off the Band-Aid and release him.