If you haven’t heard, the Cleveland Indians have traded for Josh Donaldson.
Sounds great, right? After all, he has a career slash line of .275/.366/.507 with 179 home runs since his debut in Oakland in 2010. Donaldson made his first of three consecutive All-Star appearances in 2014 and was eighth in MVP voting after finishing fourth the year prior. 2015 and 2016 could be considered his prime years; he was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger in both seasons and he took home AL MVP honors in 2015 after have a mammoth year at the plate — .297/.371/.568, 41 home runs, 123 RBIs, and a wRC+ of 154 (7th in all of baseball that year).
He’s no stranger to the postseason, either; he’s appeared in every playoffs from 2012-2016, including making it to the ALCS with the Toronto Blue Jays in both 2015 and 2016. If you remember, the Encarnacion/Donaldson duo was a terrifying combo to go up against in the 2016 ALCS.
However, things haven’t gone as planned so far this season.
After averaging just over 148 games/season from 2013-2017, Donaldson has really had issues staying healthy in 2018. So far this season, he’s played in just 36 games, and his overall slash has been a pedestrian .234/.333/.423. He has just five home runs (which would be his lowest total since his rookie season in 2010) and his wRC+ is 104. Still above average, but a far cry from the 149 it was last season. So what’s going on? Well, if you haven’t heard, Donaldson has been dealing with a case of the Chisenhalls, aka a calf injury. Is it a recent development or is Donaldson about to lose a leg?
February 17, 2017: Donaldson is sidelined with a right calf strain
For seemingly the first time in his career, Josh Donaldson had to deal with a calf injury. While running sprints in spring training, Donaldson “felt something grab in his muscle” and he needed some crutches that weekend to move around. The prognosis was that he would miss a few weeks, but no one thought much of it. After all, Donaldson just completed his third consecutive All-Star caliber season and was an absolute workhorse in those three seasons, averaging 157 games/season during that time span.
His spring training would be put on hold, but with some rest, he should be back on his feet.
April 14, 2017: Donaldson hits the DL for the first time
The calf held up for a bit, but it eventually caused Donaldson to hit the DL for the first time in his major league career. In the April 13 game against the Baltimore Orioles, Donaldson roped a double into the right field corner and was immediately wincing as he broke out of the box. As he rounded first, he bunny hopped the last third of the way to second base. Trainers came out and he was immediately removed from the game. The following week, Ken Rosenthal reported that Donaldson would likely miss 2 to 4 weeks.
At the time, there was no timetable for his return.
May 26, 2017: Donaldson activated from the DL
After two rehab appearances in High-A ball, Donaldson was back with the Blue Jays. In his first at-bat back, he lofts a double into deep center field. Out of the box, around first, and sliding into second, everything looks good.
That was it for Donaldson in the DL that year. And for the rest of the season, he looked good, like vintage Donaldson. Across 461 plate appearances, he slashed .267/.382/.557 with 31 home runs, 74 RBIs, and a wRC+ of 148. The injury may have been a small blip but nothing more.
April 13, 2018: Donaldson hits the DL again, this time for his right shoulder
Donaldson tried to grit and play through the injury, but it was finally too much and he was placed on the DL again on April 13, retroactive to April 11.
Manager John Gibbons said that Donaldson had been playing with a “dead arm” when he noticed that Josh was having trouble throwing from third to first. A couple of attempts at DH and then he was back at third on April 3. But it took just ten days for the Blue Jays to put Donaldson back on the DL. He would go onto rehab in High-A again on April 28 for a little under a week.
May 3, 2018: Donaldson activated from DL again
Josh would be reactivated for about a month before his next DL stint, but things definitely seemed off this time around. Unlike his return in May of 2017, Donaldson did not look like himself. From May 3 to May 28 of this year, he slashed a paltry .231/.324/.407 with just 12 extra base hits in 105 plate appearances. He was striking out almost 30 percent of the time, his power was way down, and his wRC+ was a below-average 96.
June 1, 2018: Donaldson hits the DL again, this time for his left calf
On May 28 in a game against the Boston Red Sox, Donaldson was on first base when Justin Smoak ripped a line drive double into the left field corner. Donaldson made it to third, but he wasn’t running at his full speed. A trainer came out and spoke with Donaldson and he was promptly removed from the game. He sat out the next three games before the Blue Jays finally placed him on the 10-day DL.
At the time, Donaldson was hoping that the injury wasn’t serious and he’d be back in the lineup sometime over the weekend against Detroit. Instead, he aggravated the calf during sprints and he hit the DL.
June 26, 2018: Donaldson hits a setback
While fielding ground balls prior to a rehab stint, Josh’s left calf started acting up again. The team took an MRI and called it an “acute strain”. This set him back at least three weeks, meaning he wouldn’t likely return before the All-Star break as he had initially hoped.
July 10, 2018: Donaldson resumes baseball activities with no calf issues
Woohoo! After a couple of weeks since the acute strain diagnosis, things seemed to be looking up. Josh had started running and the leg was feeling good.
July 21, 2018: Still no timetable to return
Josh was running with “good intensity” but there wasn’t a definitive time frame for him to be reactivated.
July 30, 2018: Donaldson is transferred to the 60-day DL
It sounds scary, but this was more of a roster juggle than anything since Donaldson was already past the 60-day mark.
August 2, 2018: Rapid. Progress.
Despite not having seen the field in over two months, Josh Donaldson was garnering some interest from teams looking to pick up someone on waivers before the end of the month. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins notes that the power is starting to return for Donaldson. He hasn’t played in a rehab game yet, but that will be the next step and it may not be too far away.
August 15, 2018: Running the bases again
In a short Instagram video on Josh’s personal account, the third baseman can be seen running the bases with the caption “Getting closer!!”.
August 30, 2018: Rehab begins
For the first time since May 28, Josh Donaldson is back on the field and playing in a baseball game for the High-A affiliate for the Toronto Blue Jays. Exciting times, eh? His one hit of the night was a home run.
September 1, 2018: Today
And now we’re here. It’s September 1 and Josh Donaldson is a member of the Cleveland Indians. He’s had way more ups than downs, but 2018 has been a challenging year for the Bringer of Rain. Not only has his body started to show signs of wear and tear that were not previously there before, Donaldson feels that he’s been challenged with the Blue Jays’ management as well. In fact, Donaldson feels that his injury was a lot more serious than initially reported:
It's clear that the #Bluejays and Donaldson didn't see eye-to-eye on his injury and recovery. Donaldson told the Sun that during rehab "he completely ruptured his calf" and suffered further damage elsewhere on his leg.— Rob Longley (@longleysunsport) August 31, 2018
So what do we make of it all? Obviously there was some disconnect between the Blue Jays and Donaldson, and the fact still remains that Josh has only seen 36 major league games in 2018. All we know for sure is that he’s working his ass off to get back to the majors, and he’s now doing it with the help of one of the best medical staffs in baseball, who don’t have any kind of history underestimating injuries that eventually turn into longer disabled list stints...