Dodgers, a bunch of others, interested in Josh Donaldson

Josh Donaldson. (via)

Wednesday afternoon, Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times reported the Dodgers have interest in free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson.

Entering his age-34 season in 2020, Donaldson (.259/.379/.521/.900) is coming off of a bounce back season for the Braves in 2019. Finishing at 4.9 WAR and 132 wRC+ in 155 games, Donaldson predictably topped the 1.3 WAR and 117 wRC+ he produced in 52 games while struggling with injuries for the Indians and Blue Jays in 2018.

The Dodgers didn’t struggle for offensive production at third base in 2019 (as I touched on yesterday). Justin Turner (.290/.372/.509/.881) matched Donaldson’s 132 wRC+ in 2019 (his own age 34 season), though he did so in 110 fewer plate appearances. A lower walk rate for Turner (9.3%) than Donaldson (15.2%) was balanced out by Turner putting more balls in play (16.0 K%) to Donaldson (23.5 K%). Most of those numbers fell in line with their recent career production, though Donaldson’s strikeout rate the past three years is significantly higher than it was from 2012-16. (Also worth noting, Donaldson’s 76.6% contact rate on balls inside the strike zone was the second-lowest among 135 qualified batters.)

The possible addition of Donaldson, in which the Dodgers would face plenty of competition as Castillo reported four other teams with some sort of interest, would mean a move off of third base for Turner. Donaldson spent all 1,297 innings in the field at third in 2019 and 7,721 of his 7,749 innings since 2013 were at the spot.

Though he lacks the positional versatility (Donaldson’s 71 1/3 innings at catcher for the A’s in 2010 and 2012 is amazingly his second most played position) the Dodgers value so greatly, Donaldson’s presence at third would seem to boost its defense at third. Posting a +15 defensive runs saved (2nd in MLB) and +2.4 UZR (T-16th in MLB) Donaldson easily beat out Turner in both categories (-7 DRS and -6.7 UZR).

Defensively, it seems Donaldson would probably be an upgrade at this point over Turner at third, but his addition to the lineup obviously wouldn’t be in place of him. Donaldson (or really significant addition to the infield) would be more likely to push Gavin Lux to either a part-time role early in the season or to remain in AAA to start 2020 (after 28 days in the majors in 2019, Lux being held down until about the second week of May means an extra year of control for the Dodgers). With Turner playing most of the time at first, Max Muncy should be in a nearly everyday role at second.

Cost?

When Justin Turner signed his current four-year, $64 million deal in December 2016, he was coming off of a 5.0 WAR/123 wRC+ season with +7 DRS and a +9.2 UZR and entering his age-32 season.

FanGraphs estimated a three-year deal for Donaldson, ranging somewhere between $60 million and $71 million, meaning Turner’s contract (minus a year) might be the starting point. That AAV would push the Dodgers up against the tax threshold with the current estimates for arbitration.

Is that absolutely worth it? Probably assuming the Dodgers can get at least two seasons of Donaldson at something similar to his 2019 production. Barring a huge dropoff in 2020, it appears they are going to get their money’s worth on Turner’s four-year deal, as he has been worth 13 WAR through the first three years even while playing in about 75% of the Dodgers’ regular season games.

For the money it’ll cost, Donaldson should be in the field every day as he’s played in at least 155 games in five of the past seven years. In 2019, the right-handed Donaldson’s OPS and wRC+ changed little on a platoon split (.841/123 vs. lefties, .917/135 vs righties), though it was his lowest result in both statistics against left-handed pitchers since becoming a full-time major leaguer in 2013 and only the second time in his career he hit righties better than lefties.

About Cody Bashore

Cody Bashore
Cody Bashore is a lifelong Dodger fan originally from Carpinteria, California (about 80 miles north of Dodger Stadium along the coast). He left California to attend Northern Arizona University in 2011, and has lived in Arizona full-time since he graduated in 2014 with a journalism degree. He currently works for the local newspaper, as well as writes for the university’s athletics department.