“At the same time, teams are going to give you an understanding of where they’re valuing you. It was important for me not to go into this overvaluing myself, but also having somewhat of an idea of that. There were some teams that were more gung ho about going more years with me than others. That was one of the factors in making my decision.”
As Donaldson's salary number soared, the Braves were increasingly less comfortable. They had the chance to match Minnesota's offer and keep their offense intact — they declined. The team pivoted to slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna on a one-year deal and decided to hold an in-house competition between Austin Riley and Johan Camargo for third base.
The Braves signed Donaldson on a $23 million, one-year flier after the 2018 season. He'd been derailed by shoulder and calf injuries, making even that deal a level of risk. The signing worked out better than the Braves could've imagined: Donaldson hit .259/.379/.521 with 37 homers, 94 RBIs and 97 runs scored.
Rather than appearing on the decline, Donaldson resembled his past MVP form. It positioned him for a massive multi-year deal despite his age. The Braves wanted him back, but they hesitated over his long-term health, knowing his history and the physical maintenance that Donaldson requires to stay at peak shape as he ages.
“I’ve been around this game enough to where, when you start setting those expectations, you set yourself up to have emotional reactions, second-guessing your decision,” Donaldson said. “I went into this as a very methodical process to where I tried to take the emotion of it out and see what’s best. I felt, honestly, the peace of mind with the decision knowing we were very thorough and understanding it. Ultimately, we’re happy with that decision.”
Even so, Donaldson acknowledges he was surprised at how negotiations progressed with the Braves. He previously said in an interview with WSB-TV that the Braves’ offer “wasn’t in the same realm for me financially.”
“There are relationships that have been built throughout this game, so I was a little bit surprised in how it worked,” he said. “But obviously they had a game plan. So I can’t necessarily comment on what their game plan was because I don’t know. I know they have guys who are very capable of going over there and moving to third base. So I have an understanding that they were comfortable to a certain point, either signing me or maybe going in another direction. And that’s OK. That’s the game we’re in.”
Donaldson said he has felt tremendous this spring and described the transition as seamless. He’s excited to join another potent offense and another division-winning team. The Braves, meanwhile, seem quite happy with their own options.
While it ultimately concluded in another exhausting postseason defeat, the Braves’ 2019 season will be remembered fondly in time. Donaldson was a beloved part of it with his quirky nature, thrilling production and southern roots.
“If I could describe (my year with the Braves) in one word, it’d be ‘grateful’ to have that opportunity to put on that Braves uniform for the team I grew up watching in the midst of their prime,” he said. “To do that, to represent their team and put it on the line every day.
“I’m very thankful Alex gave me that one-year deal, but that’s tough mentally to do, too, knowing that any time if something were to happen, I wouldn’t be in this situation. You do have those pressures that are put on you from that standpoint, whereas this year, having that security of four years, I feel mentally very strong. And not worried as much about protecting myself.”
Donaldson had a “decent amount” of contending clubs interested, he said, so he knew he’d end up in a winning situation. That allowed him to focus on the best offer in terms of money and years.
“I want to compete to win,” he said. “Every team that was ‘in’ on me, I felt had that opportunity. Going into it, I want to win, but there were a lot of teams in on me who had that capability. The teams that were more drawn to me were teams that were wanting to win now.”
That brought him to Minnesota, which won’t face the Braves this regular season after doing so in 2019. The only way Donaldson and the Braves would compete against each other this year would come in late October — a meeting both sides would happily welcome.