Sources: Josh Donaldson, Braves agree on short-term deal

Tim BrownMLB columnist

Josh Donaldson, the 32-year-old third baseman who missed much of 2018 because of shoulder and calf ailments, on Monday agreed to terms on a one-year, $23-million contract with the Atlanta Braves, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The deal is pending a physical.

The American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2015 and for a half-decade one of baseball’s most feared sluggers, Donaldson missed nearly a third of the 2017 season and two-thirds of the 2018 season due to injuries, dampening his free-agent market.

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Therefore, Donaldson accepted the one-year deal at his salary from 2018, allowing him the opportunity to return to the market next winter, betting on a full and productive 2019 season. The Braves also came to terms on Monday with free agent Brian McCann, the 34-year-old catcher who spent nine seasons as a Brave and returns on a one-year deal.

The Donaldson signing suggests the defending NL East champion Braves temporarily have other plans for 24-year-old Johan Camargo, the third baseman who batted .272 with 19 home runs for them last season. Of his 134 games, 114 were spent at third base, 18 at shortstop and three at second base. The Braves could try him as a super-utility player or at a corner outfield position. Shortstop Dansby Swanson had surgery on his left wrist in November but is expected to be ready for spring training.

Over five seasons leading to 2018, Donaldson averaged 33 home runs and nearly 100 RBI, with a .377 on-base and .901 on-base-plus-slugging percentages.

Donaldson would be viewed, then, as a player whose body is failing him and therefore whose prime has run thin or as a reasonable bet for bounce-back success, potentially over a long period. The artificial turf at Rogers Centre was believed to have contributed to Donaldson’s lower-body issues.

Josh Donaldson is headed to Atlanta on a one-year, $23 million deal. (AP)
Josh Donaldson is headed to Atlanta on a one-year, $23 million deal. (AP)

If Donaldson resumes his career at pre-2018 standards, he could become one of winter’s better signings. He is regarded as a highly competitive sort and an unfailingly good teammate who also is obsessed with the mechanics of his swing. Drafted out of Auburn in 2007, Donaldson did not become an everyday player until he was 27, and only then after being traded from the Chicago Cubs to the Oakland Athletics and struggling at the plate in a handful of big-league opportunities.

His breakout season was 2013. In 89 prior major league games and 328 plate appearances, Donaldson was a minor-league terror who batted only .232 with the A’s. A sturdy final month of 2012 helped him win the third-base job in 2013, and Donaldson responded with 24 home runs, a .301 batting average and a fourth-place finish in the AL MVP balloting for the A’s, who won the AL West.

After another productive season in 2014, the A’s traded Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays. They received four players, including infielder Brett Lawrie and right-hander Kendall Graveman in return. Graveman had moderate success as a mid- to back-end starter, then, last summer, underwent Tommy John surgery in July. Lawrie played one subpar season for the A’s, was traded to the Chicago White Sox and hasn’t played professionally since 2016.

And, in 2015, his first in Toronto, Donaldson became AL MVP. He hit 41 home runs and led the league with 122 runs and 123 RBI. He was nearly as effective in 2016, and again in 2017, in spite of a calf injury that cost him six early-season weeks.

His walk year – 2018 – began with what the Blue Jays described as a dead arm, and eventually was diagnosed as a sore shoulder, which required time on the disabled list. He returned for a month, suffered a calf strain in late May, was traded to the Cleveland Indians in late August though he hadn’t played in a major league game in three months, and played his first game for the AL Central-leading Indians on Sept. 11. He had one hit in 11 at-bats in the Indians’ division series loss to the Houston Astros.

Donaldson was likely considered a fallback option for clubs in need of a high-end third baseman, behind Manny Machado, who is viewed long-term as a third baseman. Agent Dan Lozano represents both players.

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