In acquiring Josh Donaldson at the stroke of around 8pm ET last night, the Indians took a hard lesson learned in the 2016 postseason and turned it into a shrewd business decision and smart baseball move.
If you’re doubting the Indians’ thought process behind trading for Josh Donaldson, a former AL MVP who has been riding the disabled list the last two seasons, may I return you to a painful place in your memory. One you likely blocked away and never hoped to return to.
I want to talk about Kyle Schwarber.
Schwarber debuted with the Chicago Cubs in 2015, and in 69 games a rookie, slashed .246/.355/.487 with 16 home runs. Not quite MVP caliber numbers, but a very good 131 wRC+ and a lot of promise for a fanbase that, at the time, hadn’t won a World Series in nearly a century.
Tragedy struck early in the next season when he collided with Dexter Fowler in early April and tore his left ACL and LCL. It’s about as ugly as it sounds, and many thought he was cooked for all of 2016. The Cubs went on to be okay without him I guess, all the way to the World Series against some team in Cleveland.
Schwarber’s trip to the disabled list and unlikely return was much more dramatic than Donaldson’s will be. He was already a beloved figure in Chicago — having hit a big home run in the playoffs the year prior — and a staple in the Cubs clubhouse. He also didn’t have a single hit in the season before his injury (in a whole two games), and was learning to walk mere months before he went 7-for-17 with a double and pair of runs batted in for the eventually World Series champions.
It sucked, I still hate it, and I hope the emotional trauma I just put myself through was worth reading those first few paragraphs. But there’s a point to all this — it’s eerily similar to what the Indians are hoping for with Donaldson.
Of course Donaldson is not a beloved figure in Cleveland yet (one or two hits will change that forever), he actually did play a few games this season, and his injury isn’t quite as dramatic. But the output potential of Donaldson compared to Schwarber is enormous, and there’s a chance they could get him back for more than just a single series.
You can read more about Donaldson’s chances of playing in Blake Ruane’s post earlier today, or a full timeline of his recovery from this Tyler Griffith piece. Both paint generally the same picture, that he just recently started hitting and could be back soon. The good news is the Indians don’t have to rush him, as he serves no purpose before October — let him heal, play in the majors if he’s fully ready to go and needs to knock some rust off, but by all means don’t force him to play the White Sox in a meaningless late-September series.
And when he does came back, all he needs to do is have one or two key hits and whatever player the Indians intend to trade with their Player To Be Named later will instantly be forgotten in Indians lore.
All the Indians have ever needed in a player this season is a few key moments in October. That’s why it never made sense for them to mortgage the future to bring in Bryce Harper or another star player that would only serve to help them win more regular season games and hopefully be put into a position to make an impact in October and hopefully come through when they need it. That’s not a gamble you make with key pieces of your future, you make it by buying at the absolute lowest point of a potential star (like Josh Donaldson with only roughly one month of playing time left) and risk almost nothing.
Remember Schwarber drilling a groundball to the outfield for a two-run hit in game two? Or his RBI hit just a few innings later? Or just the lift that he gave his teammates by returning and giving them another bat?
Of course you don’t, like any sane Indians fans you forgot about it instantly and went on with your life.
Cubs fans remember, though. Joe Buck sure as hell remembers.
With any luck, that will be us and Josh Donaldson.