As the Toronto Blue Jays slid out of the playoff picture over the past two seasons and prepared for the inevitable rebuild, Josh Donaldson faded from the spotlight at a similar speed, as did the huge payday that at one point seemed a certainty. His struggles were capped off by a 2018 season that was one long injury nightmare as a shoulder issue and calf soreness limited him to just 52 games. His batting average nosedived to .246 last year with just eight home runs, and Toronto got little in return when they traded him to the Cleveland Indians late in the season.
A bounce back year ahead?
That paints a bleak picture for the righty slugger, but do not count out a Donaldson revival. He is entering the 2019 season healthy, motivated and as a member of the upstart Atlanta Braves.
Reunited with former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, who signed him to a one-year, $23 million this offseason, and now injury free, Donaldson has the potential to rediscover his 2015 form when he was American League MVP and the headline act in an explosive Toronto batting line-up (123 RBIs, 41 homers, .297 batting average). Back then, he was one of the most feared hitters in the game, equally capable of crushing home runs and grinding out patient at-bats.
A loaded Atlanta line-up
Given Donaldson’s competitive streak, he should have a chip on his shoulder this year after receiving little interest around the league as a free agent. He is set to be an everyday starter at third base, likely bumping jack-of-all-trades Johan Camargo to a utility role, and will reap the rewards of joining a batting line-up that features the dangerous Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies. That nucleus allows Atlanta the freedom to see what Donaldson has left in the tank as an RBI machine.
Amid the challenges of last season, there were some promising signs in the latter months. In his brief 16-game stint in Cleveland last year, Donaldson seemed to get his swing back on track, contributing 14 hits and three homers. That was a glimpse of the upside he still offers.
Even if the 33-year-old does not get all the way back to his lofty MVP level, rolling the dice on Donaldson is a worthwhile gamble for the Braves. Of course, the injury risk will always be there but, in a loaded NL East where the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets are all lining up to battle Atlanta for a postseason spot, Donaldson could yet be the biggest X-factor.