Never hesitant to deliver a blockbuster offseason move, the A’s traded All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays in a deal announced Friday night.
Oakland will receive third baseman Brett Lawrie and three prospects – right-hander Kendall Graveman, left-hander Sean Nolin and shortstop Franklin Barreto.
It’s a stunner from the standpoint that Donaldson, who turns 29 next month, was clearly the best all-around player for a team that’s qualified for the postseason each of the last three years. He made his first All-Star team in 2014 and was a Gold Glove finalist. In 2013, his first full season in the majors, Donaldson finished fourth in A.L. MVP voting.
As recently as last week, Donaldson told MLB Network that Oakland front-office officials assured him early in the offseason that he wouldn’t be traded. But Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos had been persistent in trying to pry Donaldson from the A’s. He finally came up with a package of players that made the A’s bite.
“We were pretty adamant that it’s not something we were willing to talk about,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said Friday night. “The conversation took place over a long period of time. I said we’re gonna have to be more than impressed with what they had to offer. Hence, we made the deal.”
Beane sold the deal as one in which the A’s got a group of quality players that help both in the short-term and the future. Lawrie, 24, -- a premier prospect when he broke in with the the Jays in 2011, but whose stats have yet to greatly impress – slates in as Donaldson’s replacement at third. Beane believes Graveman, 23, and Nolin, 24, can compete for major league rotation spots come spring training, and in Barreto, the A’s get a highly regarded 18-year-old shortstop who they think can move through the farm system quickly.
But Friday’s deal certainly leaves the door open to more trades involving A’s veterans this winter. Speculation already was abuzz Friday night about whether starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija – Oakland’s most marketable trade chip on the current roster – could be dealt elsewhere eventually. The fact that the A’s need a shortstop, and that Beane said he won’t be looking for one via free agency, leaves the door open to another trade that might bring the A’s a young shortstop who’s ready to step in right away.
And given that the A’s feel they just added two potential rotation pieces in Graveman and Nolin, it stands to reason they’d be willing to deal Samardzija or perhaps lefty Scott Kazmir.
“We wouldn’t have done the deal unless we were doing it for now and in the future,” Beane said. “We‘ve spent a lot of minor league capital the last couple of years trying to give this current group as good a chance as we could. Now, looking forward, we’ve gotta be cognizant of the next couple years. This deal in our minds addresses a little bit of everything.”
Lawrie, a .265 career hitter whose best season so far came in 2012 when he hit .273 with 11 home runs and 48 RBI in 125 games, is in his first season of salary arbitration, as is Donaldson. But he’ll command significantly less than the roughly $4.5 million that Donaldson is estimated to get.
That will be of little consolation to many A’s fans who looked forward to Donaldson, the self-proclaimed “Bringer of Rain”, once again being the centerpiece of Oakland’s lineup. He’s a late bloomer who developed into one of the American League’s best all-around players over the past two seasons.
Last week, Donaldson took what seemed to be a bit of a swipe at A’s ownership when he wrote in a Twitter Q&A with fans that “they have plenty of money. They just tell everyone they don’t.”
Beane, who said he was unaware of that comment until a reporter asked him about it Friday night, said the statement had nothing to do with the decision to trade Donaldson.
Nolin, a sixth-round pick in 2010 who was well-thought of as a prospect within Toronto’s front office, has made just two career appearances in the majors. Over five seasons in the minors, 86 of his 92 appearances have been starts.
Graveman posted a 3.86 ERA over five relief appearances with the Blue Jays last season, his first taste of the bigs.
The right-handed hitting Barreto, who turns 19 in February and was signed out of Venezuela as an amateur free agent by the Blue Jays, was ranked as Toronto’s No. 5 prospect by Baseball America. The shortstop hit .311 with 29 stolen bases with low Single-A Vancouver last season.
“What he did as an 18-year-old in the Northwest League is pretty impressive,” Beane said. “Despite his age, we expect him to move very quickly.”