After back-to-back trips to the ALCS in 2015 and 2016, the Toronto Blue Jays currently sit in last place in the AL East at 64-76. They have the fourth-worst record in the American League and are on pace for their worst season since going 74-88 in 2013. It's been a tough year in Toronto, for sure.
The Blue Jays, even as bad as they've been in 2017, look like they have a shot at contending in 2018. They absolutely need some outfield help, and that figures to be the top priority this offseason. Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Devon Travis, and Aaron Sanchez have combined for only +2.4 WAR this year and getting them healthy is a must. There are some good foundation pieces in place though. This team isn't that far away from contending.
The biggest issue facing the Blue Jays over the next 14 months is the impending free agency of star third baseman Josh Donaldson. Donaldson was a late bloomer -- his first full MLB season came at age 27 -- who will turn 33 during the 2018-19 offseason, the offseason of his free agency, though that shouldn't prevent him from securing a monster contract. He still produces at a very high level.
At some point within these next 14 months the Blue Jays will have to make a decision about Donaldson's future with the team. They have three options:
- Re-sign him to a big contract.
- Let him leave as a free agent and get a draft pick.
- Trade him for a boatload of prospects.
No. 2 should be considered a non-option. Donaldson is far too valuable to let leave for a dinky little draft pick. There is something to be said for keeping him and trying to make a run next year, but with a player this valuable, I don't think the Blue Jays can risk letting him walk and getting so little in return. The club can see where they stand at midseason next year and act accordingly.
Trading Donaldson is an interesting -- albeit painful -- option the Blue Jays have to at least consider. Team president Mark Shapiro and his staff wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't explore trading Donaldson for a package of young players to build around going forward. And the sooner they trade Donaldson, the more they could expect in return. He is a difference-maker. The kind of player who can change the balance of power within a division. The sooner you pick him up, the more he helps.
According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Blue Jays are at least open to the possibility of trading Donaldson this coming offseason, but with a catch. They want MLB ready players who can step right into next year's lineup and help them win. From Heyman:
The Toronto Blue Jays won't consider trading Josh Donaldson unless they could find a trade that improves them for the 2018 season, sources tell FanRag Sports. Which is to say, he almost surely isn't going anywhere.
Trading big league ready pieces for Donaldson seems to defeat the purpose, no? Donaldson will be a free agent next offseason so, realistically, the teams most likely to trade for him are contenders. Teams that believe he can put them over the top and get them to the World Series. The teams that figure to be least likely to trade MLB caliber pieces who can help them win right now. They want to add Donaldson to those players, not swap them out for each other.
Interestingly enough, the teams that could perhaps most use Donaldson in 2018 are two AL East rival: the Red Sox and Yankees. Both teams have young players they could, in theory, plug in at third base next year (Rafael Devers and Gleyber Torres), though Donaldson would represent a significant short-term upgrade. The Angels, Braves, Mets, Cubs (with Kris Bryant moving to left field), Cardinals, and Giants all stand out as potential Donaldson suitors as well.
Another potential suitor: the Indians. The club figures to lose Carlos Santana to free agency this offseason, meaning they could stick Donaldson at third, slide Jose Ramirez over to second base, and use Jason Kipnis at first. Or perhaps trade Kipnis as part of the Donaldson deal, since the Blue Jays want MLB ready players in return. It's an interesting thought. The Indians are right smack in their window of contention. The window isn't getting any more option. Donaldson would be a big help in 2018.
For now, the Blue Jays will plow through the final three weeks and change of the 2017 regular season, then the front office will get together and figure out the best way to proceed going forward. Chances are they're already doing that. In a perfect world, everyone would be healthy and Donaldson would help the Blue Jays get back to the postseason in 2018. The club has to prepare for alternatives though, and in this case, that includes trading Donaldson before he becomes a free agent.