It’s very difficult to know what goes on behind the scenes in a team’s front office; there could be a number of trades discussed that never take place and never see the light of day. The Indians typically keep their moves fairly close to the vest, so there’s no way to really know if they were involved in any trade talks with the Oakland Athletics before they traded Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s all basically a moot point since Donaldson is in Toronto and won’t be coming to Cleveland any time soon. However – would he have been a good fit for the Indians? Was the eventual asking price low enough that they should have jumped on this move?
Third base has been a conundrum for the Indians for several years. They kept trying to fill the position with temporary fixes until 2008 first round pick Lonnie Chisenhall was ready to take over on a more permanent basis. The problem is that Chisenhall has never been a consistent break-out player, and there were enough concerns about him that the Indians actually tried to move catcher/1B Carlos Santana over to third to start the 2014 season. Chisenhall won the position back as he was on fire at the beginning of the year – he finished the first half with a .332/.396/.519 line (.915 OPS). The problem is that he crashed back to earth during the second half of the season, as he hit .218/.277/.315 (.591 OPS). Plus his defense was absolutely dreadful; on a team of bad defenders, he had some of the worst numbers (he led the team in negative defensive runs saved). So while Chisenhall improved his numbers against left-handed pitching this year, the dramatic second-half drop off offensively, coupled with the poor defensive stats, means that third base is still a major concern for the Indians heading into 2015.
Overall, Josh Donaldson was a very valuable player in 2014 – his 7.4 bWAR was second only to American League MVP Mike Trout. Donaldson is an excellent defender (which could help the Indians dismal infield defense) and hit .255/.342/.456 with 29 home runs in 2014. While the average is a bit on the low side, he could represent the right-handed power bat that the Indians have coveted for several years. Plus his away numbers were far superior to his home numbers, meaning that he’s likely to see some improvement once he leaves the cavernous Oakland Coliseum.
What Toronto gave up for Donaldson – infielder Brett Lawrie, who hit .247/.301/.421 with 12 home runs in 2014, along with minor leaguers Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman, and Franklin Barreto. It definitely seems like Toronto got the better end of the deal, since Donaldson is under team control for four more years, and Nolin and Graveman are considered back-end of the rotation starters at best. Lawrie is just 24-years-old, so it’s certainly possible that he could be a break-out player at some point (even though there’s been no evidence of that as of yet). In many ways, Lawrie and Chisenhall have some statistical similarities, even though Lawrie is a better defender (although still not necessarily a great defender).
Obviously Billy Beane and the Athletics believe they have something of value in the collection of players they received from Toronto. I’m just curious if the Indians would have been able to put together a similar package; it wouldn’t even require surrendering players of extreme value. The Athletics wanted middle infielders, of which the Indians have an abundance. The difference may have been in the minor league arms; the Indians don’t have as much depth in that area.
While I never expected the Indians to land Josh Donaldson (I honestly wasn’t even sure the A’s were serious about trading him), when I stop to think about it, I like the idea of Donaldson taking over third base for the next few years. I never expected the haul to acquire him to be so reasonable, if he was in fact moved. Unfortunately, the Indians will have to look to other alternatives for a long-term third base solution and to improve the infield defense. While I’ve been hesitant to give up on Chisenhall over the past few years, his second-half drop off and his abysmal defense has me about ready to throw in the towel.