St. Louis Cardinals: The magic Josh Donaldson trade package

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TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Josh Donaldson
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Josh Donaldson /
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Several days ago, I made my desire towards a Josh Donaldson to the St. Louis Cardinals trade clear. Now, several days later, here is a magical trade package that I believe will accomplish the goal.

Think about the last time you were really excited about the team the St. Louis Cardinals were putting out on the field. For me, it happened on Opening Day 2015 when the top three in the Cardinals’ order were Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward and Matt Holliday.

2015, although it ended on a sour note, featured a 100-win Cardinal team with a historic pitching staff (2.98 starter ERA, only the 2nd team since 2000 with a sub-3 starter ERA) and several MVP candidates in Jason Heyward and Matt Carpenter.

And yes, I know this is a super unofficial way of calculating whether or not a roster is good, but it certainly is telling that the past two years of consecutive playoff misses have featured unexciting teams to me.

In calling for a Josh Donaldson trade on Monday, I forgot to mention several off-the-field components that add intrigue and value. One of those things is excitement.

Donaldson plays with his heart on his sleeve, diving for balls in foul territory, leaping into the stands, pounding his chest after making a sweet play, bat flipping and yelling excitedly after hitting a big home run. None of these things are suggested practices within the parameters of ‘The Cardinal Way,’ but they’re necessary nonetheless.

BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 27: Josh Donaldson
BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 27: Josh Donaldson /

Ownership has recently shown, through the lack of a winning product and the continued commitment to Mike Matheny, that the only thing they care about is attendance. So, to all of the DeWitts, if any of you happen to be reading this, I personally guarantee that a full season of Josh Donaldson would increase overall attendance by at least 50,000, maybe more. And that doesn’t even cover jersey sales, national media coverage and all the other general recognition that a player like Donaldson brings.

The Cardinals haven’t had a truly exciting player since Albert Pujols left. Jason Heyward seemed to be that guy for a year, but nobody was really coming to the ballpark just to watch him play. Donaldson is the kind of player that I would pay a full ticket price just for the opportunity to see him get four at-bats and play nine innings of defense. He’s transcendent, confident and exactly the kind of juxtaposition and jolt that the St. Louis Cardinals need right now.

BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 26: Josh Donaldson
BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 26: Josh Donaldson /

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Now, with all of that being said, what would it take for the Cardinals to trade for Donaldson?

Last July, for my own blog, I outlined a package that I believed would accomplish the job. Thinking that St. Louis would be getting three months of the 2017 season along with a full 2018 season out of Donaldson, the package I put together included Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk and Jack Flaherty.

Three months later, I’m extremely wary of that package and know that it needs to change.

Firstly, Jack Flaherty continued his ultra-breakout, reaching St. Louis during August of his age-21 season and sending the hype train into overdrive. Through his 2017 explosion, Flaherty has elevated himself from a #3-#4 type of starter into a potential #1-#2, even though his Major League cameo was less than stellar, to say the least.

When I originally proposed that package, Flaherty – aside from being a “touchable” asset – was ranked at #83 on MLB.com’s top 100 prospect pipeline. He is now ranked at #47 and is, I believe, an “untouchable” asset.

In 2016, Point of Pittsburgh, a baseball analytics website, broke down the average surplus value of prospects based on their overall rankings. I understand that this list could be out of date, but it’s still vital work and I’m gonna use it here.

According to the chart, pitchers ranked between 26-50 have an average surplus value of $29.8 million. Considering that Flaherty’s previous ranking of #83 would have given him an average surplus value of $15.6 million, it’s completely fair to say that his value has undergone a significant uptick.

So let’s compare Flaherty’s surplus value to that of Donaldson’s in 2018 because that number is what I’ll be shooting for in order to put together a trade that makes sense for both sides from a numbers standpoint along with a common sense standpoint.

2018 will be Donaldson’s 4th time going through the arbitration process as a ‘Super 2’, and I’ll be going back to The Point of Pittsburgh in order to calculate his value. Their MLB Arbitration Calculation article estimates a 70% salary increase for a player in the position of Donaldson so, considering the average annual value of a 2 year $28.6 million extension he signed in 2016 is $14.3 million, a 70% increase on $14.3 million comes out to $24.31 million.

Now, projecting him out is more difficult, so I’ll base it off of his predicted 5.5 WAR this season on Fangraphs depth chart, a combination of his ZiPS and Steamer projections. The price of WAR last offseason was $9 million, so adding a 5% inflation rate to that seems reasonable and brings it up to $9.5 million.

With all of that being said, here is how Donaldson’s value projects out in 2018.

Now, considering Jack Flaherty’s current surplus value of $29.8 million exceeds that of Donaldson in 2018, not to mention the 5 more seasons of control after this one, you can see why I’m wary of trading him. So we’re gonna go ahead and scrap that entire Wong, Grichuk and Flaherty package.

Instead, I’m going to almost exactly copy a trade that the Cardinals pulled off nearly 15 years ago for a superstar 3rd basemen in the same mold as Donaldson. I’m going to use the Scott Rolen trade between the Cardinals and Phillies as a foundation to work off of.

In the original trade, the Philadelphia Phillies traded 27-year-old Scott Rolen to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for 26-year-old Placido Polanco, 22-year-old Bud Smith, and 36-year-old Mike Timlin.

The parallels between the Rolen trade and my desired Donaldson trade aren’t exactly the same, but they’re not too far off.

The centerpiece that I have going back to Toronto – depending on how you think – is Jedd Gyorko (Placido Polanco), along with Michael Wacha (Bud Smith) and Jose Martinez (Mike Timlin…..lol just kidding).

Examining the surplus value going back to the Blue Jays, I’ll use the same process I did in evaluating Donaldson’s value, and things come out looking like this:

In just 2018, the surplus value going back to Toronto of $33.42 million exceeds that of Donaldson’s $27.95 million coming to St. Louis. Add in the fact that Gyorko has a potential three more years of control on an AAV of $11.6 million, Wacha has two more arbitration years, and Martinez has five years of control, the return package for a potential 1-year rental makes sense from a numbers standpoint.

From a baseball and common sense standpoint, the trade makes a lot of sense.

Donaldson coming in unseats Gyorko, and with Wong at 2B, Carpenter at 1B and Paul DeJong at SS, he would have nowhere to go. Sending him to Toronto makes sense in context. Wacha, although I believe still holding high value to the Cardinals, is about to have his rotation spot unseated by a wave of prospects coming through. Young, controllable pitching is an asset in today’s game, Toronto will graciously accept because they don’t have enough of it.

I know that just four days ago I projected Jose Martinez as the Cardinals’ starting RF in 2018, but that’s pretty crazy and I know that now. His trade value, coming off of a monster offensive season, is sky high and makes sense for an American League team. His bat is his greatest asset, and Toronto can deploy him as the DH/1B hybrid type of player that thrives in the American League. 

That being said, Martinez is in a really tough spot with the Cardinals. The OF is stacked up with players and many more are on the way. There was talk of him moving to 1B this offseason, but Matt Carpenter is there and he gets on base, something few other Cardinals do, so I don’t want to trade him.

The best course of action with Martinez is to trade him instead of holding on, letting his value fall and keeping him trapped in a situation where he doesn’t play often enough.

The Cardinals get a game changing player in Josh Donaldson while setting their infield for 2018 – Carpenter, Wong, DeJong, Donaldson – and also fill the lacking #3 hole in their lineup. Also, a rotation spot is cleared for Luke Weaver/Jack Flaherty/maybe a free agent (SHOHEI OTANI, ANYONE???) and Jose Martinez is freed to go roam around in greener pastures.

Next: Looking ahead 2018, Luke Weaver edition

Overall, although my esteemed colleague Larry disagrees, I believe this trade sets the Cardinals up for much clearer success in 2018, fills significant holes, checks the ‘impact bat’ box, and appeases the fanbase. What more could you want?

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