ATLANTA, Ga – With the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings in full swing in Southern California, the Braves continue to look for ways to improve the club for 2020 and beyond. We know they’ve already bolstered the bullpen with the additions of Will Smith along with re-signing both Chris Martin and Darren O’Day. Catcher was another big item on the offseason shopping list that’s been addressed with the signing of free agent Travis d’Arnaud. And last week, Alex Anthopoulos plugged a hole in his rotation by inking Cole Hamels to a one year deal. So, what’s the most likely move going forward?
While Josh Donaldson’s name has been a hot commodity on the free agent market, there’s definitely mutual interest in a reunion with the former MVP in Atlanta. A lot will depend on Anthony Rendon’s future, which will most likely be somewhere other than Washington DC. The Nationals and Phillies have been rumored to have interest in Donaldson, while a return to the American League could also make sense for the 34 year old third baseman. If it ends up being a four year deal, Donaldson could theoretically shift to a DH role in the AL. That said, the Braves (or other NL clubs for that matter) could roll the dice and gamble on the DH coming to the National League as early as 2022 with the expiration of the CBA at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
I personally think the risk is worth it from the Braves standpoint. Your young core is in place with Acuna and Albies signed longterm. Freeman will likely be the next to get a longterm deal to keep him in Atlanta. And your young rotation continued to take major strides forward in 2019 with Mike Soroka and Max Fried resembling seasoned vets. But the window of opportunity is only open for so long. The Phillies have shown a willingness to spend “stupid money”. The Nationals re-upped the World Series MVP to keep him in a staff along with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin for the foreseeable future. The Mets still have deGrom, Syndergaard and young emerging stars in Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and JD Davis. And the Marlins are in the midst of a longterm rebuild but have added some really strong young prospects over the last two years. So, the for the Braves could be going a little further on years and dollars than they feel comfortable with in regards to Donaldson. But, if you win a World Series in the next two or three years, would anyone really care about overpaying for a 37 year old Donaldson if you’ve been fitted for a ring? And perhaps a bigger question: if you DON’T resign Donaldson, who becomes your cleanup hitter?
While I haven’t had the best of luck when it comes to making predictions, I’ll say the Braves end up biting the bullet and bringing Josh Donaldson back on a three or four year pact. Donaldson was a leader both on and off the field, and we’ve seen this Front Office put an emphasis on veteran leadership. While they still have plenty of it in that clubhouse, there’s really only one Josh Donaldson and he’ll be extremely difficult to replace in the heart of the order, at the hot corner and more importantly in the clubhouse.
Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and @BravesRadioNet