If Josh Donaldson Isn’t For Sale, Why Do the Cardinals Keep Calling?

Depending who you ask, the Toronto Blue Jays either have no interest whatsoever in trading Josh Donaldson or they’re at least considering the thought of dealing their superstar third baseman. A 1 to 99% probability of moving a franchise staple is a huge variance, isn’t it?

If you talk to people around 1 Blue Jays Way, they’ve all but fully assured suitors the Jays aren’t entertaining offers for Donaldson. But if you ask others in the St. Louis Cardinals’ circle, they seem convinced the Redbirds have a faint hope in landing him.

So, which one is it? This one …


Or this one?

If the Blue Jays are so adamant about keeping Donaldson, why do reports (like this one from St. Louis) keep surfacing about the Bringer of Rain being “discussed” with other teams?

Despite the shifting landscape within the American League, I don’t believe the Blue Jays’ stance on Donaldson has changed. Just because the Yankees got that much better by getting Giancarlo Stanton – just because the Angels are apparently going for it this year – doesn’t mean the Blue Jays’ immediate plans for Donaldson should deviate.

I’m convinced he’ll be in Toronto on Opening Day 2018. He may not finish the 2018 season as a Toronto Blue Jay, but that’s a different story.

Let’s say the Blue Jays are entertaining offers on Donaldson this winter – they’d never say as much. The Jays run the risk of running into a situation as the Marlins did with Giancarlo Stanton; everybody in baseball knew he was for sale and it left the Marlins in a “take it or leave it” scenario with trade partners.

Even if a team like the St. Louis Cardinals comes to the Blue Jays with a very attractive offer for Donaldson, wouldn’t it look weird for the Jays to suddenly do an about-face and trade a player they openly admitted they can’t imagine being competitive without?

Unless the offer has gotten better from the Cardinals (or any other prospective suitor for Donaldson), it doesn’t make sense for the Blue Jays to suddenly shift gears.



Given that most of these reports are stemming from St. Louis, I wonder if it’s the Cardinals using the Blue Jays as leverage to get the real third baseman they want; someone like Manny Machado or Evan Longoria.

It’s fun to imagine the Cardinals planting a seed of doubt in the minds of the Orioles or Rays about a potential trade for one of their third baseman. All it may take is floating a rumour about the Cards to Donaldson to get things moving.

If you’re the Cardinals and you’re trying to expedite trade talks or you’re looking for leverage with the Orioles for Machado or the Rays for Longoria, it makes sense to use the Blue Jays as a pawn in negotiations with Baltimore or Tampa Bay.

During last week’s Winter Meetings, Alex Anthopoulos was on the Jeff Blair Show and noted that during his time as GM of the Blue Jays, his team was used all the time in unfounded reports. Anthopoulos made it a policy to never comment on particular players, which played perfectly into the hands of agents or rival executives pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Much like free agents – much like acquisition pieces they’d like to have – I think the Blue Jays have a price they’re willing to pay and a price they’re willing to accept on all players. There are untouchables on this roster, but Donaldson isn’t one of them.


As mentioned, unless the Cardinals come back to the table with a “can’t say no” offer for Donaldson, I don’t think a deal gets done this winter. At this juncture, it still doesn’t make sense for the Jays to trade him right now.

If 2018 is the final year of contention with this core of Blue Jays players, Donaldson is far more valuable to the Blue Jays as an everyday player than a trade chip. Since he’s a free agent at season’s end, the prospect haul for Donaldson might actually be a little underwhelming. He won’t command a Chris Sale or Adam Eaton-type prospect haul in return.

Players with only one year of team control is very tricky in trade talks, because it mostly limits negotiations with teams who feel they’re in contention for 2018 or they need a player like Donaldson to push them over the top.

One report indicated the Cardinals weren’t willing to give up a bounty of prospects for only one year of Donaldson.

The Cardinals weren’t one player away, but now that they’ve acquired Marcell Ozuna and signed Luke Gregorson, they’re inching closer towards becoming a contender again in the NL Central. Perhaps they feel like Donaldson is the calibre of player to push them over the top.

Which if that’s the case, the Blue Jays should be all ears if and when the Cardinals come calling again.

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

10 thoughts on “If Josh Donaldson Isn’t For Sale, Why Do the Cardinals Keep Calling?

  • December 18, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Great read Ian. Firstly, I love JD and my first choice as a armchair GM would be to extend him. However, extending Josh doesn’t look good. I hope I’m wrong. My next choice would be to move him in a three way trade that includes the Marlins in order to get Yelich. Obtain some pieces the fish would like from me and the other club even if it a bit of overpay. (not Vladdy though). It would free up payroll to address other needs in free agency and if Vladdy keeps being himself, he could very well be manning 3rd base by mid season. A good move for the future without punting 2018.

    • December 18, 2017 at 3:47 pm

      Thanks Terry! Earlier this year, I thought re-signing Donaldson was priority number one for the front office. But now I’m not so sure. 2018 seems like the last kick at the can with this core of players – it wouldn’t shock me if Donaldson is dealt mid-season if things go sideways in Toronto. But for the first time in a long time, the prospect pipeline looks very promising for the club.

  • December 18, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    I would suspect (hope?) that when teams like the Cards come calling, the Jays do not just say “no”. Instead, they should say “we do not want to trade Josh, but if you knock our socks off we are prepared to listen”. That would explain why the Cards keep calling back, either with new ideas or to revisit old ones, and why the Jays say that they are not “shopping” Josh.

    I agree completely with Ian that, whether or not the Jays are entertaining offers, they should never admit to doing so. It not only decreases the offers received (as they could be perceived as desperate) but also taints the ongoing relationship with John in case a deal is not done.

  • December 18, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Nice post.
    In reality, it’s all pandering. I’ve thought it to be very likely that the Cardinals were using the Blue Jays all along, and who knows, maybe got Machado to be available as a result. That said, if they actually knocked with a great package in hand, I’d be all for a trade.
    I really don’t think Toronto needs to Trade Donaldson. He’s not going to bring back that much – he is an older player with less than a year of control. His is the kind of trade that the home team will be disappointed with. Comparatively, he’d be much more valuable as an extension candidate than as a prospect haul.

    • December 18, 2017 at 7:49 pm

      Yeah, even if Donaldson was on the block, I don’t think he’d get nearly as much as fans are expecting. For prospective trade partners, it’s a big ask to give up top prospect for a rental player like Donaldson.

  • December 18, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    Thanks for posting.

    To me the obvious path here would be to sit on Donaldson until the trade deadline and assume he will have yet another successful season being healthy. If he’s in the MVP running (and he would have been if he were healthy) he would still get a haul of prospects for a team who’s on the fringe but needs to make it in.

    In fact, I would wager a guess that the return would be higher than right now. Most teams feel it’s within their control to bolster their offense but as things evolve and injuries come up, a team can get desperate. Darvish only netted the 4th, 17th and 27th prospects from the Dodgers (a great system) because he was statistically average. If Donaldson is even close to his capability I’d be shocked if a team (or several) wouldn’t bet the farm on him pushing them over the top.

    • December 18, 2017 at 7:51 pm

      If anything, there may actually be more suitors for Donaldson at the trade deadline than this offseason. Now with the second Wild Card, there are a lot more teams in the mix come mid-season. If a team is on the cusp and Donaldson’s available, that’s a huge play for a contending team.

      • December 19, 2017 at 8:19 am

        I agree with that thinking. There is risk involved with that strategy but my hunch is management is applying this approach across the team.

        If their goal is to maximize the window for revenue/sales a logical path at this point would be:
        Plan A- Keep everyone, sign some 1-2 year type deals and hope you make the playoffs
        Plan B – If we begin to fade or realize we’re not in the thick of the wild card hunt, we trade Donaldson, Pillar, Osuna, Smoak, Happ etc. to teams who need a jolt.

        I don’t think it’s a bad strategy but it has flaws. Namely, if your team isn’t good enough to make the playoffs it’s inherently tied to performance which means many of the names listed could struggle limiting their value.

        With that in mind it still makes sense that they are pursuing players like CarGo, Gomez, Sabathia etc for this exact purpose.

        Could be wrong, it’s my working theory.

  • December 20, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Great article. Very clearly lays out the reasons why trading Donaldson now doesn’t make sense given the prospects that probably come back from the Cards. That said, what if the trade proposal for Donaldson is something along the lines of Gyorko, Flaherty & Gomber AND the Marlins would be willing to trade Yelich & Castro to the Jays for Bichette, Flaherty & Gomber? Atkins and Shapiro have made it clear they want to contend in 2018. If they can turn one year of 5.5-7 WAR from Donaldson in 2018 and Bichette’s prospect capital, into multiple years of 6-9 WAR from Yelich, Castro and Gyorko, isn’t that a no-brainer?

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