Josh Donaldson proved he still brings the rain.
Donaldson struggled with injuries toward the end of his time in Toronto, but he returned to form with a brilliant 2019 season in Atlanta. After betting on himself with a one-year deal last winter, he posted a .900 OPS with 37 homers, 33 doubles, and 94 RBIs. He also took 100 walks and played some of the best defense of his career (15 defensive runs saved) for the division-winning Braves.
Now, with a Comeback Player of the Year Award likely in tow, Donaldson returns to free agency looking to finally land the payday a former MVP warrants.
Though he's entering his age-34 season and could face stiff competition at his position on the market in the form of Anthony Rendon, there will be no shortage of suitors for Donaldson. He's still the kind of impact player who can change the fortunes of a franchise, and he'll do it at a slightly lower price than Rendon might command.
Here are seven potential landing spots for Donaldson this offseason.
Why wouldn't the Braves try to bring him back? Donaldson revitalized his career in Atlanta this past season and seems to fit the team perfectly. His home-road splits were skewed drastically in favor of SunTrust Park. He's a southern boy and grew up a Braves fan. He's presumably got a great relationship with GM Alex Anthopoulos going back to their days together in Toronto. The Braves are poised to make multiple playoff appearances with him in the lineup.
Atlanta could potentially create a logjam by re-signing Donaldson, but it might be an easy one to solve after Austin Riley looked good as an outfielder in his rookie season. Ender Inciarte or Nick Markakis would likely get squeezed out in this scenario, but there could be a trade market for either player if that were to happen.
Pitching is the obvious priority for Milwaukee this winter, but the Brewers should absolutely be on the phone with Donaldson's agents. Imagine a top of the order featuring Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Donaldson, and Ryan Braun. Opposing NL Central pitchers are already quaking in their boots.
It goes without saying that Donaldson would be an excellent replacement for fellow free agent Mike Moustakas at third base - with all due respect to "Moose," an All-Star and solid ballplayer in his own right. Travis Shaw could be moved to first base, or be cut entirely after his rough 2019, a move that would save Milwaukee roughly $5 million in arbitration. The Brewers love to get creative; they'd find a way to make this work.
It's a pretty safe bet the Brewers won't be swimming in the Rendon pool and, as mentioned before, starting pitching needs to be the priority. But if the organization is truly serious about making the jump, Milwaukee will put a call in to Donaldson.
Gio Urshela's breakout season was a cool story, and this is no indictment of him. It's just that Donaldson is an objectively better player and the Yankees want to win now, so they should flex their financial muscle and sign him. Donaldson would surely relish the chance to return to the AL East, this time under the bright lights of the Bronx, and he'd fit in very well on a three-year deal.
Beyond the on-field positives, Donaldson would also give Brian Cashman some more flexibility on the trade market this winter. The Yankees have a ton of infield depth; perhaps Urshela becomes a sell-high candidate in exchange for controllable pitching, with Miguel Andujar returning from injury as a first baseman and DH. Or maybe it's Andujar heading out for arms and Urshela sticking around to help the infield. Regardless of the direction they'd choose, bringing Donaldson into the fold would yield plenty of positives for the Yankees, and they'd be wise to explore it.
Here's one of two winter scenarios the Braves are no doubt dreading. And yet, it makes a lot of sense.
Donaldson is the type of player Philadelphia sports fans adore. He brings a certain swagger to the diamond, speaks the truth when necessary, and isn't afraid to get his uniform dirty. Even setting intangibles aside, there's an obvious fit here. Maikel Franco's midseason demotion to Triple-A made it fairly obvious the Phillies have run out of patience with him, opening the door for Donaldson. He won't cost as much as Rendon, but he'll bring a similar level of play to the ballpark - and the kind of presence a perennially disappointing team needs in order to get over the hump.
Donaldson and the Cardinals have been linked to each other for several years dating back to when the Blue Jays were dangling him in trade talks. Now, St. Louis once again has a chance to bring him into the fold. Donaldson would shore up an infield that's already pretty fantastic defensively while adding yet another lethal bat to a lineup with plenty of potential. If Marcell Ozuna walks, Donaldson would also serve as an excellent replacement on a shorter-term commitment.
The only real question in this scenario: What happens to Matt Carpenter? Carpenter is coming off a disastrous 2019 season but is under contract for another two years. He'd either have to be dealt - a tough one considering he owns a full no-trade clause - or returned to a utility infield role if Donaldson came to town. But that's a problem the Cardinals should be glad to deal with in order to add Donaldson, who represents a clear upgrade for a team that needs it.
The Rangers have a history of stunning the field with high-profile free-agent signings, and this winter feels like the perfect opportunity for them to do it again. Donaldson makes sense as a splashy addition to open their new ballpark and also represents a clear upgrade at a position in dire need of one. He could make the same kind of impact on the franchise that Adrian Beltre had when he joined Texas in 2011 after his own bounce-back season.
Texas was a pleasant surprise last season, remaining in contention until late July during what was supposed to be a long rebuilding year. This could be the moment for the team to take the next step by adding Donaldson. If the front office wants to demonstrate belief in this group's future, the Rangers will make this call.
Here's another NL East team that could soon have an opening at third. Of course, this fit is conditional on whether Rendon re-signs. But if he walks away, the champs should be pushing hard to lure Donaldson out of Atlanta. The Nationals have a history of ponying up for stars, so it's not out of the question that they'd try to extend their window by grabbing Donaldson on a three- or four-year deal at a high AAV. He'd likely relish the chance to help Washington defend its title.