The 26-year-old utilityman just followed up a breakout rookie campaign with an excellent sophomore season, continuing to swing one of the best bats the Cardinals have while providing tremendous value plugging into almost every position defensively.
Since his debut in 2022, Donovan ranks 39th in all of baseball with a 124 wRC+, tied with Kyle Schwarber and ahead of guys like Francisco Lindor, Luis Robert Jr., Lars Nootbaar, Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Adolis Garcia, Bryan Reynolds, Ozzie Albies, and the list goes on and on. His most elite tool as a hitter is his on-base ability, ranking 12th in MLB during that stretch with a .381 OBP.
I love myself some Jordan Walker, Lars Nootbaar, and Nolan Gorman, but statistically, it's hard to argue against Donovan being the best of the bunch at the plate thus far in their careers. Do those three have higher ceilings than Donovan? Probably. But Donovan has already shown the heights he can reach as a hitter, especially this past summer.
After getting off to a slow start at the plate in 2023, Donovan looked like one of the top-20 hitters in all of baseball from May 21st until being shut down with his elbow injury on July 29th, ranking tied for 17th in baseball with a 145 wRC+ on the back of a .316/.395/.489 slash line during that stretch. Even more impressively, he was nursing his elbow injury for the majority of that stretch, but his bat was so good that the Cardinals could confidently DH him every day.
If the individual numbers are not enough to show you just how valuable Donovan is, just look at the team's offensive rankings before and after Donovan was done for the season. Yes, there were other injuries and weird situations that impacted this as well, but it's clear the Cardinals' offense is a much better unit with Donovan in the lineup.
Offensive Ranking in MLB
Before Donovan was shut down
After Donovan was shut down
Nolan Arenado's back injury, Nolan Gorman and Lars Nootbaar missing time, and plate appearances being increasingly given to guys who will not be on the Major League roster in 2024 contributed to this steep offensively decline, but it's obvious that losing a bat as impactful as Donovan's played a major role in this as well.
This offseason, the Cardinals are going to be looking to upgrade their pitching staff in a significant way, leading some to believe that Brendan Donovan could be a part of that equation through a trade. If anything, these numbers should give the Cardinals a ton of pause when it comes to the idea of letting someone like Donovan go this offseason, even in a trade for pitching that they desperately need.
I want to take a look at three different paths the Cardinals could have for Donovan in 2024 - locked into the outfield every day for them, being the super-utility man and DH, or becoming a trade asset in their pursuit of starting pitching. Each scenario has major implications for this Cardinals club both now and in the future, and I have my suspicions on what path they will choose for Donovan.