If I had told you at this point last year that Josh Donaldson would be signing before the Winter Meetings for a one-year deal, you probably wouldn't have believed me.
If I had told you it would be for $23 million a month ago, you probably wouldn't believe me, either. And yet, here we are. Donaldson has signed with the Atlanta Braves for just that, with the team confirming the move on Monday evening.
There are big fantasy implications here, and this also affects several players; those who play for the Braves, those who could have played for the Braves and more. Let's look at them.
First, Donaldson. Simply put, when Donaldson has been healthy, he's been as good as any third baseman in baseball. From 2015-2017, the 32-year-old hit .285/.387/.559 while averaging 37 homers and 100 RBI for the Blue Jays. He also stole 15-of-18 stolen base attempts, scored over 100 runs a year, and played some of the best third base in baseball. He was voted MVP in 2015 and finished fourth the year after. Long story short, he's a great player when he's on the field.
Unfortunately for Donaldson, staying on the field has been an issue over the last two years. He missed 49 games in 2017 and was limited to just 52 appearances last year; missing over three months because of his lingering calf problems. He also wasn't great when he was on the field this season, posting a .234/.333/.423 line with the Blue Jays before being dealt to the Indians. He did perform well over his 16 games with a .920 OPS, but that sample size is very small. Long story short here as well, there's a reason why Donaldson is settling for a one-year deal for the 2019 season.
All of that being said, this seems like a win-win deal for Donaldson and the Braves. It's a bit of a risk for the third baseman, but it's a risk that comes with a $23 million dollar paycheck. If Donaldson hits well and stays healthy, he'll be back on the open market and will get a chance at multi-year deals; be it from the Braves or someone else looking for a third baseman. If he doesn't play well, there should still be a market as long as the defense doesn't completely fall apart -- it's worth pointing out that the metrics say he's gotten worse there, but still offers some value -- and he'll have a chance to get another reasonable pay day. The Braves spend a big amount of cash in terms of AAV, but they've got the money, and the worst-case scenario is it's one year of sunken cost. This extends an Atlanta lineup that already had star power with Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman, and it wouldn't be a big surprise if he hit between the two of them; or perhaps Freeman hitting between Acuna and Donaldson to make it right-left-right. Either way, big opportunities to drive in and score runs should exist for all three.
The question now is what this does for the rest of the market. The Braves are believed to be big spenders in this market. There are a few holes still left to fill, so we'll see how much this signing prevents them from spending on other big-name players. Procuring the services of a former MVP could also make Atlanta more appealing to free agents, and Atlanta has one of the best farm systems in baseball to address some of their weakness as well. The Braves obviously won't be looking for a third baseman, but it'd be a major upset if they were done upgrading the roster.
Another question the Donaldson signing created appears to have already been answered: What do the Braves do with Johan Camargo? Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Braves plan for Camargo "to become their Marwin Gonzalez." This makes a lot of sense. Camargo has the versatility to help all over the infield and should be able to handle the corner outfield spots in a pinch, and he can gives regulars rest and be a weapon off the bench. Unfortunately, this will hurt Camargo's fantasy value because playing time won't be guaranteed, but he'll still have some value in NL-only leagues because of his ability to hit for decent average ahd power. It's also possible the Braves could deal Camargo, but having a cost-effective player like him on the bench is a valuable thing for a contender, and the Braves are clearly contenders.
There's no guarantee we see the player we saw in the previous three years, but the talent is still there, and if he does reach those heights again, it could pay off big for all parties involved.