We may never know the true story of how the relationship unravelled between Josh Donaldson and the Toronto Blue Jays. Somewhere along the way, things went south between the former MVP and Canada’s preeminent baseball team.
Over the course of the last few months, Donaldson left a few breadcrumbs as hints to how the relationship took a turn for the worse. All we can do is fill in the blanks.
I was reminded of this as he spoke at his introductory press conference as a member of the Atlanta Braves. He didn’t speak ill of the Blue Jays organization per se, but he took the opportunity to make a subtle jab at his former club.
How is it that things devolved so quickly between the Blue Jays and their All-Star third baseman? Last offseason, they were reportedly discussing a contract extension. Eight months later, the Jays paid for Donaldson to go away and play elsewhere.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the reported dissension. After missing six weeks with a calf injury, Donaldson made some postmortem comments about his 2017 campaign during the club’s final road trip of the season.
He didn’t hold back when criticising the Jays’ training staff and here’s what Donaldson had to say to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi at the end of the 2017 season:
“I’ve never torn a muscle in my body before and to have a tear in my calf from doing an exercise that I probably shouldn’t have been doing at the time, that’s part of the learning process,” he says. “Learning what I need to do this off-season and then build up to the point that I’m not just sprinting right away after I haven’t really run in three or four months. It just wasn’t the smartest of things.”
The key phrase in that quote? “An exercise that I probably shouldn’t have been doing”. Without saying as much, Donaldson hinted at his mistrust of the methods employed by the Jays’ high performance department.
We eventually learned that Donaldson went out on his own and spent the offseason under his own supervision and trained outside of the Blue Jays supervision. That in itself wasn’t a huge deal – players don’t have to follow as if they’re strict orders – but in retrospect, this was problematic for the Blue Jays.
Donaldson felt like his calf injury in 2017 was a fluke. It was an anomaly for someone who played more than 150 regular season games per season. He was right; only Mike Trout played more regular season games than Donaldson from 2013 to 2016. Trout played 632 games while Donaldson suited up for 629.
For a player of Donaldson’s ilk to suddenly land on the disabled list with a calf strain was a little odd, but wasn’t suspicious at the time. Clearly, he felt differently.
There’s also the rumoured contract negotiations between the Blue Jays and Donaldson’s camp last winter. The number floated out there by Jon Heyman was north of $75 million over three years to bring back Donaldson. At that juncture, an offer like that seems like fair market value for a player with his resume.
Nobody can confirm whether that contract offer was officially on the table, but if Donaldson already wasn’t pleased with the club’s high performance department, feeling slighted by a contract extension certainly wouldn’t have helped matters.
Then, Donaldson suffered a shoulder injury, followed by yet another calf injury and mysteriously missed four months of the season with what initially seemed like a procedural trip to the disabled list. It was the furthest thing from a typical DL stint.
What transpired in the weeks and days leading up until the August 31st waiver trade deadline was some of the most bizarre Blue Jays news I’ve ever seen. The “will they/won’t they” back and forth resulted in a very confusing circumstance which led to Donaldson landing in Cleveland.
It wasn’t until after the fact that Ross Atkins told Scott Mitchell of TSN that Donaldson did indeed go out on his own and forewent the resources offered by the Blue Jays during the offseason.
“He was not using our resources during the offseason, which was fine with us. We support him 100 per cent in his desire to do that. There’s certainly not a disconnect internally, but, I think, when players are being traded there is a level of emotion.”
Whether it was intentional or not, Donaldson took one last dig at the Blue Jays during Tuesday’s press conference in Atlanta.
“I’m excited to be back with Alex and a lot of my former training staff that was with me with the Toronto Blue Jays … because they know me and they know how to keep me on the field.”
Unlike the Blue Jays training staff? Donaldson referenced former Blue Jays trainers George Poulis and Mike Frostad as familiar faces he was happy to see in Atlanta. Frostad was let go by the Blue Jays at the end of 2017 and Poulis left his position to become the director of player of health and head trainer with the Braves. Both trainers were with the Jays during Donaldson’s MVP season in 2015 and his fourth-place MVP finish in 2016.
According to Donaldson’s comments to the Toronto Sun’s Rob Longley, Josh said “there’s going to be a time that we can talk about it” when he’ll say how things fell apart between him and Blue Jays front office.
Until then, we can only speculate why the Bringer of Rain left town as unexpectedly as he arrived.