The Cleveland Indians haven’t officially clinched the AL Central division title, but for all intents and purposes, they did so months ago. Cleveland (77-57) holds a 14.5-game lead over the Minnesota Twins in a laughable division. Sure, the Indians would like to play some good baseball in the final weeks, but the front office is more concerned about setting things up for the postseason.
And on Friday night, Cleveland made a move that has the potential to make a big impact in October.
The Indians acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
Sources: Josh Donaldson has been told he's been traded to the Cleveland Indians.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 1, 2018
Donaldson, 32, hasn’t played since May 28 due to a calf injury. He’s been rehabbing in the minor leagues, but it sure seems there’s some uncertainty on how healthy that leg is.
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
The prospect return hasn’t been announced, but it’s hard to imagine it’s anything significant on the surface. Donaldson’s health is completely up in the air, and there’s only one month left in the regular season. He’s also a free agent in the winter, so the price shouldn’t be high.
(Update: it’s a player to be named later)
So, while we don’t know how healthy or effective Donaldson will be, it’s absolutely a chance worth taking for the Indians. They don’t need him being a key contributor over the next month; they’re thinking October with this move. He still has a month to get get healthy and get back into the swing of things on the baseball field.
And not long ago, Donaldson — the 2015 AL MVP — was one of the best players in baseball. Heck, in May 2017, I made an argument for Donaldson as the best player in baseball not named Mike Trout. Look at Donaldson’s ranks in Wins Above Replacement from 2014-16:
From 2014 to 2016, these were your top three position players in total WAR per FanGraphs:
Mike Trout: 26.3 WAR
Josh Donaldson: 22.9 WAR
Adrian Beltre 16.7 WAR (I would’ve never guessed that one in 50 guesses)
From 2015 to 2016:
Mike Trout: 18.3 WAR
Josh Donaldson: 16.3 WAR
Kris Bryant: 15.0 WAR
On the season, Donaldson has a .234/.333/.425 slash line, with five homers, a 104 wRC+, and a 0.6 WAR (according to FanGraphs; fWAR) in 36 games. But he also battled a shoulder injury early on that likely factored into his poor numbers. Last season, Donaldson had a .270/.385/.559 slash line with 33 dingers, a 149 wRC+, and 5.1 fWAR in 113 games. He was still a superstar.
The computers still think Donaldson is an excellent hitter (if healthy, obviously), with ZiPS projecting Donaldson for a .264/.368/.514 slash line and a 138 wRC+ for the rest of 2018.
And if Donaldson is anything like that hitter, it makes a scary Cleveland team quite a bit scarier in October.
The Indians already have two MVP-contending players in Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor in their lineup, along with Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, etc. On the pitching side of things, the Indians are set up very well with their playoff rotation as long as Trevor Bauer (fractured fibula) can get healthy. Bauer, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Mike Clevinger make an excellent starting rotation — on paper — in October.
The Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and Oakland Athletics are getting most of the talk in the American League this year, but the Indians could be as dangerous as any of them come playoff time. Acquiring Donaldson increases the chances of that.