Cubs free agent focus: Josh Donaldson

Tim Stebbins

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB's top free agents and how they'd fit with the Cubs.

Former Cubs farmhand and current free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson is a hot commodity this offseason.

Following an injury-riddled 2018, Donaldson had a resurgent 2019 season with the Atlanta Braves. The 33-year-old posted a .259/.379/.521 slash line with 37 home runs and 94 RBIs. He finished seventh in MLB with 100 walks and played an excellent third base - his 15 Defensive Runs Saved were No. 2 among MLB third basemen.

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Donaldson is one of the game's best third basemen and won the 2015 AL MVP Award while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays. He'd be a valuable addition to many teams, but like fellow free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, there's no spot for him on the Cubs roster, as currently constructed.

Kris Bryant's positional versatility allows the Cubs to play him in the outfield - and occasionally first base when Anthony Rizzo is hurt or needs a day off. But Bryant is a third baseman first and foremost, so as long as he's a Cub, the team isn't going to acquire another star to man the hot corner. Doing so would mean moving Bryant to left or right field full-time, as he's only played 25 innings in center field during his big-league career.

Kyle Schwarber (left) and Jason Heyward (right) have the Cubs corner outfield spots locked down. Now is not the time to trade Schwarber, so you can rule out dealing him to fit Bryant in left. Heyward can play center, but he's a much better defender in right.

Therefore, adding Donaldson would only make sense if the Cubs decide to trade Bryant this winter.

The Cubs are open to shaking up their roster after a disappointing 2019 season. Bryant is a free agent after 2021, so the Cubs could look to move him if they don't foresee the 27-year-old signing an extension. The Cubs won't trade Bryant for the sake of change, especially if they aren't offered the type of return they seek.

There's also the issue of Bryant's service time grievance case, which would push his free agency up to next offseason, should he win. Scott Boras - Bryant's agent - laid out at the GM Meetings why it's unlikely we'll see the 2016 NL MVP dealt this offseason.

Considering his age, Donaldson probably won't be getting more than a three or four-year deal this offseason, though the annual salary will be high. Hypothetically, if the Cubs trade Bryant, they'll have a vacancy at third base, which Donaldson could fill for a few seasons.

If these scenarios played out, the Cubs would still have an All-Star third baseman in Donaldson, all while acquiring future assets in return for Bryant. However, the Cubs wouldn't trade Bryant without a contingency plan to replace him. They'd also lose leverage in trade talks if they acquire another third basemen while Bryant is still on the roster, thus weakening the return package for him.

Most importantly, the Cubs would be replacing Bryant - a star in his prime - with Donaldson -a veteran who had a great 2019 but will be close to 40 by the end of his next contract.

Unless the Cubs are blown out of the water by a Bryant trade proposal, it makes much more sense to keep him rather than spend big on a free agent who hopefully will be productive into his late 30s. 

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Cubs free agent focus: Josh Donaldson originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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