Friday night the A's traded All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie and three prospects. Oakland's return certainly has potential, but it doesn't feel like the kind of overwhelming return a team would get for an MVP candidate who's under team control for another four years at a below-market cost. Third base is one of the positions many feel the Indians should be trying to improve. Should they have been in on Donaldson? What sort of offer could they have put together to meet/exceed what Toronto gave up?
To be clear, Donaldson wouldn't have been just some marginal upgrade at the hot corner; over the last two years he has been the best third baseman in baseball, with only one or two peers offensively and only one or two peers defensively. His 138 wRC+ over those two years places him in the top 20 in all of baseball. All that and he only turns 29 next week.
As I already mentioned, he's still under team control for four years, and while he's entering his Super 2 year of arbitration, he'll still be a bargain, likely to make something like $5-6M in 2015, with raises of $4-5M to follow if he continues to play well, for a total of something like $45-50M for the next four years. He's been worth 7 to 7.5 WAR a season, and is projected to be worth 5.6 in 2015 by Steamer, which (with a typical -0.5 a year decline) works out to 19-20 WAR over the next four years, which would be worth upwards of $100M on the open market.
This is absolutely someone the Indians could have used, and with his two most expensive season coming after Swisher and Bourn's contracts are off the books, they'd be able to afford him (though the 2016 payroll would probably be maxed out).
What kind of package could the Tribe have put together to match/top Toronto?
Brett Lawrie is more valuable than Lonnie Chisenhall. Both of them were 1st round picks in 2008, but Lawrie is a year younger. They are both headed into arbitration for the first time, and both of them have appeared in exactly 345 games, and they both have a career wRC+ of 104, but Lawrie is a better defender.
The Indians would have included Chisenhall, but the other players/prospects they offered would have had to be better than what Toronto gave up. So, who else did Toronto give up?
Sean Nolin is a left-handed pitcher who'll turn 25 in December. He's put up good numbers in the minor leagues, and is viewed as MLB ready at this point. He was ranked as the #97 prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus, but other outlets haven't been as high on him. He's a valuable piece, but not as valuable as Danny Salazar, and not as valuable as Trevor Bauer. Bauer's pedigree is higher than Nolin's, and Bauer has already shown some signs of putting it together in the Majors. (Nolin also missed almost half of 2014 with a groin injury) I think Salazar and Chisenhall carry a little more value than Lawrie and Nolan, while Bauer and Chisenhall would still be a little bit behind.
Kendall Graveman is a right-handed pitcher who'll turn 24 in December. Graveman began 2014 in Single-A, but was quickly promoted to High-A, then Double-A, then Triple-A, and then Toronto (for a quick cup of coffee during which he pitched 4.2 innings). He was very successful, despite low strikeout figures, in large part because he allowed only 2 home runs in 172 innings across all levels. Notably, neither Graveman or Nolin was on Baseball America's top ten Blue Jays prospect list, released earlier this month. Cody Anderson seems like about as valuable a prospect as Graveman (though Anderson had a much worse 2014). Dylan Baker would also be comparable.
Franklin Barreto is the one piece of the trade that's largely about future potential, and not present value. Only 18 years old, Barreto posted an .865 OPS in 2014 while playing in Low-A. He's a shortstop, but scouts seem to expect him to move to second base or the outfield eventually. In terms of a high-upside match, Francisco Mejia might be the best fit in the Tribe system (though he's a catcher, so there's a big positional difference). In terms of a middle infielder, Erik Gonzalez is a bit closer to helping, but probably has a lower ceiling. Jose Ramirez would be a great fit for Oakland, who could put him at second base for 2015, though his value is higher than Barreto. If you think Francisco Lindor is ready though, and don't see Jason Kipnis getting moved off second base, Ramirez's greatest value to the team is as a trading chip.
Package A: Lonnie Chisenhall, Danny Salazar, Cody Anderson, Erik Gonzalez
Package B: Lonnie Chisenhall, Trevor Bauer, Cody Anderson, Jose Ramirez
Either of those two groups of players would seem to have more value than what Oakland just accepted. So, would you have been willing to ship either of those groups to land Josh Donaldson???