St. Louis Cardinals: How Will the Cardinals Fill Their Third Base Hole?
By Zach Gifford
What about Josh Donaldson?
If the St. Louis Cardinals are unable to bring in Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson would be a great “consolation” prize. He would be another major upgrade both defensively and to the heart of the lineup. He won the AL MVP award in 2015, and received votes in every year since 2013.
As mentioned previously, Donaldson has accumulated the second most Defensive Runs Above Average since moving to third full-time in 2013. Offensively since 2013, he has hit for a .284/.375/.518 line, worth a 146 wRC+. Additionally, he has averaged more than 30 homers per season in that span. He has a comparable strikeout rate to Machado at only 17.7%, but a much better walk rate of 12.0%.
Given his high walk rate, Donaldson’s offensive profile should age relatively well. However, he will have completed his age 32 season by the time he hits free agency, so his defensive value may take a hit. To determine Donaldson’s expected value, I again apply next year’s Steamer projection, an average aging curve, and inflation adjusted $/WAR.
Using the average discount of 17.7%, I project Donaldson to sign a six-year deal worth $29M annually and $174.1M total. Bumping the discount up to 28.5% yields a contract value of $25.2M annually and $151.3M total.
I expect the St. Louis Cardinals to have between $73M and $80M available during this offseason, so pursuing Donaldson should not be a financial issue. This deal, however, would likely take Donaldson to retirement. Given how the aging decline accelerates as players get older, there is a risk that this contract with Donaldson could be a bust.
However, since his offensive profile is one that ages well, he could very well out-produce these projections. In that case, the contract might look like a steal. The ultimate determinant of whether the St. Louis Cardinals pursue Donaldson or not is how much risk they believe the organization can tolerate.
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There is reason to buy into the St. Louis Cardinals vision. The team nearly made the playoffs this past season. Further, free agent signings and better starting pitching depth will improve the team next year. Many fans believe the front office has been too hesitant to make a splash in free agency. Expect that to change in the next couple of years.