These are the questions Alex Anthopoulos has been asking for three months. The Braves believe Donaldson, in a perfect world, wants to remain a Brave. That was the advantage of having him for one year. “He got to see our house,” Anthopoulos said, and that’s not an incidental consideration. (Neither is his relationship with this general manage, who has hired him twice.) If the money is comparable, why mess with happy? If he stays here, he’ll bat behind Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman. That’s a hitter’s dream.
The Braves’ fear has long been that some club will throw stupid money at Donaldson – more than $92 million over four years. MLB Trade Rumors projected Donaldson would sign with the Rangers for $75 million over three seasons. The guess here is that the Braves would happily match that. A fourth year, however, might be a bridge too far.
MLB Trade Rumors ranked Donaldson the fifth-best free agent of 2019. The other four – Garrit Cole and Rendon, Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler – have signed. The Bringer of Rain is now on the clock. He sees what Rendon got. He saw what Moustakas, always considered the third choice among third basemen, banked from Cincinnati. A lot of big-name teams want Donaldson very much, and when the big spenders get involved, markets can go ka-blooey.
To the Braves, Donaldson isn’t a luxury item. He’s a big-time player they absolutely need. If he signs elsewhere, they’ve lost their middle-of-the-order hitter. They’ve lost their third baseman. (Leaders in the clubhouse to replace him: Johan Camargo, coming off an awful year, and Austin Riley, who hit everything for a month and nothing thereafter.) They’d still be a good team. They mightn’t be a team capable of winning the World Series.
There’s been chatter about the Braves swinging a deal for Kris Bryant, another former MVP. That would likely cost them Max Fried, whom nobody wants to lose, and Bryant could – between arbitration and a grievance filed against MLB regarding its start-the-clock silliness on top prospects – could make as much as $45 million over the next two seasons. Then he’d be a free agent.
Bryant is an option, but he has always seemed a distant Plan B. The Braves would be loath to sacrifice Fried for someone under team control only through 2021. On the plus side, Bryant is a proven MOTO hitter, and he’s 27. He’d fit. He just wouldn’t fit as snugly as Donaldson.
We’ve said it before. Here it is again: For all the Braves have done – and they’ve done much – their winter’s work will hinge on what Donaldson does. He’s wanted. He’s needed. And, with all the pertinent information he should need, he should decide soon.