Major League Baseball roster construction is all about stretching and bending the rules as far as you can to have as many quality players as you can at any given time. Sometimes it works, sometimes you still have Michael Martinez take the last swing of your season.
The Indians have never shied away from doing some tricky things, especially with their bullpen and creative use of the disabled list over the last few years. They did it again two weeks ago when they acquired Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays for a Julian Merryweather. Indians fans loved it, I loved it, but not everyone was so thrilled, apparently.
According to a report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, “several” other teams are not happy with what the Indians did, citing Donaldson’s trip to the disabled list immediately following the waiver wire trade.
To the irritated clubs, Donaldson’s status amounted to a contradiction: He was sufficiently recovered from a left-calf injury to go on revocable trade waivers and get dealt, but not healthy enough to join the Indians immediately, requiring another trip to the disabled list instead.
The Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros are named in Rosenthal’s piece as having contacted Major League Baseball to let them know with big ‘ole grumpy faces just how angry they are that the Indians traded for the same player they were going after. The same Astros and Yankees that had no issues grabbing up domestic abusers to give them an edge in the playoffs suddenly have an issue with the morality of another team’s acquisitions.
The Indians’ intent with timing of the trade was clear — they wanted Donaldson before September rolled around so he could help in the postseason, as any player added to the roster after August 31 is ineligible to be on a team’s postseason roster.
Donaldson had a lengthy stint on the disabled list prior to the trade, mostly for sore legs and a bum shoulder, but was pulled off just in time for the Blue Jays to make a trade. The three angry teams contend that this was unfair, because Donaldson was clearly traded while injured, which violates MLB’s own guidelines on waiver wire trades to protect teams from acquiring “damaged goods” as Rosenthal aptly put it.
In addition to outing a few front offices for whining about what they would have done in a heartbeat if the Indians didn’t do it first, Rosenthal’s article also points to the toxic relationship between Donaldson and the Blue Jays toward the end. The MVP third baseman voiced his displeasure almost immediately after arriving in Cleveland, and Rosenthal’s piece sheds a little more light on what exactly drove a wedge between the two parties.
The waiver placement occurred only after Donaldson resolved a dispute with the Jays about whether he was healthy enough to play at the major-league level, sources said — the Jays initially believed he was, and Donaldson and his agent, Dan Lozano, said he was not. The Major League Baseball Players Association became involved, but Donaldson went on waivers after agreeing he was healthy, and the Indians traded for him after he went unclaimed and was made available to all teams.
Donaldson didn’t want to risk his pending free agent status by further injuring his hamstring — which is completely understandable — and the Blue Jays wanted to get at least something in return for him before left forever. Also understandable.
Here’s the kicker with all this, though: The league warned everyone involved that Donaldson was potentially injured in the trade. Everyone gunning for him knew that he might not be quite right, that the Blue Jays were bending the rules, and that they could be sending a player for nothing with a month left in the season.
According to a source, a league official contacted every club with potential interest in Donaldson and issued a warning of “buyer beware,” noting Donaldson’s assertion that he could not play and seeming ambivalence about getting traded before he was fully ready physically.
If anything, Donaldson has the best argument for why this trade should never have happened. If he felt he wasn’t healthy and was being unfairly pulled off the disabled list, that is absolutely an issue. But do you think, even for a second, that’s why the teams care about the legality of this move?
I sure don’t.