With the World Series over, an off-season that started far too early for the Dodgers now truly begins in earnest. World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg has opted out, adding higher stakes to a winter that will hopefully be far better for baseball than last year’s.
I agree with those who insist that adding another dominant starting pitcher is priority for Los Angeles. After that is another elite bat to overhaul the makeup of the team’s underperforming October offense. Another Washington National with elevated pedigree from their postseason performance, Anthony Rendon, is the best free agent option there.
Should Rendon not happen, there is a compelling backup option in free agent Josh Donaldson, fresh off a resurgent season with the NL East Division champion Atlanta Braves. Given he’ll be 34 this December, and with an aging Justin Turner already manning the hot corner, he seems all the less tantalizing compared to Rendon, who hits age 30 next year.
A live look at what a josh Donaldson deal will look like pic.twitter.com/STqnfASQRa
— Nate butler (@Natebutler6) October 29, 2019
At first glance, his .259 inspires even less enthusiasm. That batting average is in-step with Donaldson’s whole career, however, as he’s never been overpowering in that regard. (He didn’t even hit over .300 in his MVP season of 2015 with Toronto.) Per his moniker of “The Bringer of Rain,” the Pensacola native’s value lies in his power and RBI output. 2019 witnessed a nice resurgence in that regard, with 37 homers (his most since 2016) and 94 RBIs.
This all comes as a right hander, which makes him more enticing given the team’s desperate need to balance out a lineup that’s been lefty-heavy the past few seasons. Another plus is Donaldson’s defense, which would land him a Gold Glove if he weren’t in the same league as Nolan Arenado.
On the downside, his power in 2019 also came with a hefty strikeout rate. He whiffed 155 times, a career-high. In every season that he’s played over 100 games, he’s struck out 110 times or more in each one. Especially with the 2018 offense fresh in mind, it might not be wise to add a hitter with that tendency.
In terms of postseason play, Donaldson is cumulatively the same as he is in the regular season: decent average, plenty of power, and lots of strikeouts. He can make for some impact moments, which he demonstrated last month. He started the Braves’ come-from-behind rally in the 9th inning in game 3. Less importantly, he even accounted for Atlanta’s sole run in their infamous 13-1 season-ending thrashing, that run of course coming on a solo shot.
Since the notoriously toxic clubhouse culture of the Mattingly era, the Dodgers have made team chemistry a priority, and in that regard Donaldson would be a tremendous benefit. His humble, determined attitude is best embodied by his wholesome adoration of the Rocky film franchise, once playing the famous speech from Rocky Balboa so loud at a preseason game that it scared birds away from the stadium.
To be clear, I am not saying Donaldson should be a primary target this off-season. The offense and infield need a serious upgrade, and either signing Rendon or trading for Francisco Lindor is the true answer to that. If he is signed, it should only be as a backup option if neither of those materialize.
If it comes to that, though, it wouldn’t be the worst way to go. Donaldson is a battle-tested veteran of many years and postseasons, with game-changing power in both leagues, flashy defense, and an affable personality that would make him an instant fan favorite.
As far as backup options go, he has to be considered fairly elite. Given the Dodgers’ need to shift away from home run-or-bust offensively, however, he might not fit their needs entirely.