Last night, the Cleveland Indians bought themselves a lottery ticket.
With the midnight waiver wire trade deadline looming, the Tribe’s front office made an eleventh hour acquisition to bolster the Indians’ chances come October by snagging Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays.
But it’s far from a sure thing.
On the one hand, the Indians could be adding a three-time All-Star and former AL MVP to their lineup, in exchange for a Player To Be Named Later. The Blue Jays are even covering most of the $3.7 million that Donaldson is owed for the rest of the season.
On the other hand, their last-ditch effort at roster improvement is a gamble on a player who has only been in the lineup for 36 games this season between two stints on the disabled list.
His minor league rehab assignment started on Tuesday of this week. This could be a game-changer for the Indians... or a nice try for one.
The potential impact of this trade will come down to two important questions.
Will he be healthy?
Josh Donaldson has not swung the bat in a major league game since May 28, when he was placed on the DL with calf tightness. That’s where he has spent the last three months of this season. He returned to action on Tuesday of this week in a rehab assignment with Advanced-A Dunedin, going 1-for-3 at the plate, with a walk. Donaldson was back in the lineup on Thursday for his second rehab game and even homered.
Due to his most recent DL stint and a previous trip to the DL back in April with right shoulder inflammation, Donaldson has been limited to 36 games with the Blue Jays this season, carrying a .234/.333/.423 batting line in 159 plate appearances.
In his previous three seasons with the Blue Jays, Donaldson slugged an average of 37 home runs per season, produced a .285/.387/.559 slash line, and was named AL MVP in 2015. His splits over that same period are almost identical:
vs LHP: .284/.397/.598
vs RHP: .286/.384/.549
When healthy, Donaldson’s bat can crush whoever is on the mound. But is the month of September enough time for him to find that swing again in time to be a difference maker for the Tribe in the postseason, after three months on the mend?
That is the million dollar question.
Where will he play?
According to team president Chris Antonetti, third base.
That will require shifting two-time All-Star third baseman and AL MVP candidate Jose Ramirez to second, a move that manager Terry Francona dismissed less than a week ago, citing the fact that Ramirez hasn’t played there all season. This will also displace second baseman Jason Kipnis, who will either ride the bench in a reduced role or take over for Greg Allen in center field, where Kipnis spent the end of last season. That would be especially cruel for Allen, who has settled in since taking over for Leonys Martin.
It’s possible Francona could platoon Kipnis and Allen in center field.
That would almost certainly spell doom for Rajai Davis’s already limited playing time.
The good news: The Indians have a month to answer these questions, and will be able to do so without having to worry about a division race coming down to the wire.
Let the Josh Donaldson experiment begin.