The Cleveland Indians just became scarier by acquiring former All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Friday night deal has not been confirmed by either team, but two people close to Donaldson told USA TODAY Sports the trade was done, under the condition of anonymity. They were not authorized to speak publicly about the move.
It will be fascinating to see just how much Donaldson, who has played only 36 games this season thanks to a strained left calf muscle, has to offer this final month. The Indians believe he’s worth the gamble.
The Indians, who have MVP candidate Jose Ramirez playing at third base, now have the option of playing Donaldson at third, moving Ramirez to second, and current second baseman Jason Kipnis to the outfield. Cleveland has a deep and powerful bench with Donaldson, who hasn’t played in a major-league game since May.
The trade ends an ugly divorce between Donaldson and the Blue Jays after three years of marital bliss. The Blue Jays acquired Donaldson from the Oakland A’s for infielders Brett Lawrie and Franklin Barreto and pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin in November 2014. They were a complete bust in Oakland while Donaldson became one of the game’s greatest players, winning the 2015 American League MVP award and hitting 111 homers and driving in 300 runs his first three years.
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Donaldson, who is only beginning his rehab assignment Tuesday, frustrated the Blue Jays by his slow recovery. They decided not to offer an $18 million qualifying offer this winter for fear he’d accept.
“It stinks,” Donaldson told the Toronto Sun on Wednesday. “From a couple of years ago to being a playoff contender and having the best lineup in Major League Baseball to where we’re at today, it’s frustrating. I don’t make decisions.
“It’s not about the team. I’m frustrated more because I haven’t been able to be out there and be a part of it.’’
Donaldson, who was earning $23 million this season, had about $3.7 million left on his contract, but Cleveland was expected to pay less than half of his salary in exchange for fringe prospects.
Now, Donaldson has a month left – perhaps longer, depending on Cleveland’s playoff run – to show teams his value in time for free agency.
“Mentally, I feel like I’m always pretty strong,” Donaldson told the Sun. “I think the confidence falls into place when my body is feeling well.
“To have the confidence in my body to be able to produce at a high level has taken some time because of what has happened leading up to this point. That’s why it’s taking me a little longer to get to this point because of how everything has been handled.”
Cleveland, which has a whopping 14½-game lead in the American League Central, can take their time breaking Donaldson into the lineup. They really won’t need him until October. And if Donaldson regains his form, they could be playing right up through the World Series.
The Indians were awfully good already.
Now, they’re even better.
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