Today is Cyber Monday and Alex Anthopoulos has clearly decided to get in on all of the wheeling and dealing. After word got out that the Braves had brought Brian McCann back into the fold on a one-year deal, the big domino dropped when multiple reporters shared the news that the Braves had gone after free agent Josh Donaldson and successfully acquired him on a one-year, $23 million deal.
Make no mistake — if you’re paying a guy $23 million to come on for one year, you’re likely not doing it so that the guy can be a pinch-hitter. Instead, it’s looking like Josh Donaldson will be heading into his age-33 season as the starter at third base. For all of the kids out there at home, if you ever hear a front office executive publicly claim that they’re happy with what they have (as Anthopoulos did when discussing his feelings on the state of the infield), you shouldn’t believe them until they either actually go through the entire offseason without doing something or they make an actual move. As expected, Anthopoulos did the latter and Donaldson is now with the Braves as their new third baseman.
That brings about a couple of big questions. The biggest of those two questions is whether or not the version of Josh Donaldson that we saw in 2018 is going to be the permanent version of Donaldson going forward, or if 2018 was an injury-riddled aberration for the veteran. If it turns out that the shoulder and calf injuries that slowed him down tremendously last season are enough to exacerbate his descent into the twilight of his career, then we might look back on this as a splashy move that didn’t work out for the Braves.
However, if Donaldson does indeed come back healthy and returns to what we saw from him at the tail end of the 2017 season (where he managed to finish with 5.1 fWAR despite only playing 113 games. Let that sink in.) then the Braves will have pulled off an absolute coup here and it would be a move that fits the Braves like a glove.
Even though the Braves are still very young and still have plenty of talent making their way towards the big leagues via the minor league conveyor belt, if you win a divisional title then you are firmly ensconced in “Win Now” mode and acquiring a big veteran bat like Josh Donaldson on a short-term deal is the type of “Win Now” deal that you have to make. Yeah, you could be “happy” with what you have at the moment but when a player of Donaldson’s caliber is out there and you can get him on a deal like this and you’re also trying to reach the next level when it comes to winning, then you have to make this move. You have to do it.
Basically, if the Braves can get the version of Josh Donaldson that we’re all used to seeing then this could be a game-changer for the Braves’ offense. The lineup last season was indeed a good one, but if they can keep it up into 2019 and also get a “normal” season out of Donaldson then this could be one of the better lineups in baseball.
This also helps out the depth of the squad, which brings me to the second big question: What happens to Johan Camargo? There are a couple of options here and none of them involve him starting at third base. Unless Donaldson continues to struggle mightily with injury, the hot corner belongs to Donaldson for now. Camargo will either move to the bench in a bit of a super utility role or if the rest of the offseason goes sideways, they could stick him in the outfield. He has very limited experience as a major leaguer in the outfield — and by “very limited” I mean a grand total of one inning as a left fielder — but his bat plays well enough to where if the Braves do indeed go with this outfield, you’d have to include him.
With that being said, the Braves would likely benefit more from putting him on the bench. If there was one lesson that we learned from the playoffs, it’s that depth is key if you want to make an actual deep run in the postseason. All you have to say about the Braves’ quality of depth in the 2018 postseason is that Ryan Flaherty was holding down a spot on the postseason roster. I’m sure that you all would feel a lot better about the Braves actually having plenty of quality on the bench to go to instead of dealing with the choices that they had from last season.
So in a way, the Donaldson deal actually upgrades the bench as well since the bench will definitely benefit from having Camargo there regularly. Plus, if you actually watched the Divisional Series then you probably understand why the Braves may not want to lean on Johan Camargo as much. He’s done a fine job during his time as a Braves regular but at the same time, all you need to do is take one look at his postseason line and you can see why the Braves have decided to bring in Josh Donaldson to be their third baseman in 2019.
Yeah, you can’t have that during the playoffs. Sure, it might have been his first go-around in the postseason but still, you can’t afford to have that type of production in a five-game series. It’s really unfair to compare it to what Josh Donaldson has done in the playoffs to Camargo’s small sample size but still, you have to feel a lot more confident about having a healthy Josh Donaldson in there if the Braves do indeed return to the postseason.
Simply put, the Braves have gotten better and we’ve finally gotten the splash that a lot of you have asked for. There was no way that the Braves were really going to stay quiet this offseason and they aren’t done, either. We should see more moves on the way but for now, the Braves have upgraded at the third base position and if Josh Donaldson can return to form, it could be one of the biggest moves of the offseason.