As soon as Anthony Rendon signed with the Angels, the Nationals immediately shifted their attention to the only other free agent third baseman on the market who could come anywhere close to matching Rendon’s production: Josh Donaldson.
The Nats then spent the next month waiting for Donaldson to make up his mind, which he finally did Tuesday night. And where did the slugger choose to go? Was he joining the World Series champions in Washington? Would he stay in Atlanta and try to help get the Braves over their October hump at last? Might he head to Texas and fill the spot so many thought Rendon was destined to fill in his home state?
Nope. Donaldson chose Minnesota. For a deal that isn’t for as much money as most anticipated.
The Twins landed the prized free agent with a contract that guarantees four years and $92 million, with a fifth-year option that could bring the final total up to $100 million, according to a host of reports Tuesday night. That’s a lot of money, no doubt, especially for a 34-year-old. But it’s not the exorbitant dollar figure we were led to believe Donaldson was going to get.
And so it’s only natural to now wonder if the Nationals missed a golden opportunity to acquire a rare impact bat. Except it’s never that simple.
The Nats made their play for Donaldson last month. He decided to wait things out and see if he could drive up the price and create a bidding war among multiple clubs. What transpired wasn’t so much a bidding war as a war of attrition, with multiple interested parties finally deciding they didn’t want to wait any longer and thus looked elsewhere.
The Rangers signed Todd Frazier, taking them out of the mix. The Nationals, meanwhile, signed a bunch of versatile infielders who can play multiple positions and share jobs among themselves.
The Braves and Twins remained, and to the surprise of most Donaldson chose the unfamiliar instead of the familiar. He joins a Minnesota lineup already overloaded with power hitters, one that set the single-season home run record in 2019. He returns to the American League, where he spent his entire career prior to 2019 and where he can transition into the full-time designated hitter if his skills at third base erode with age.
The Nationals might be disappointed, but surely the Braves are even more disappointed right now. They truly believed they’d retain their No. 3 hitter. Now they’re left searching for a replacement for their version of Rendon, with less than a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to Florida.
The Nats haven’t adequately replaced their lost No. 3 hitter, either, but at least they’ve already spent the last few weeks trying to piece together an infield full of good, solid major league players who individually can’t match Rendon or Donaldson but collectively could be quite productive.
If the season began today, Davey Martinez would feel confident about the lineup card he’d hand the plate umpire. Brian Snitker would not.
It’s the Braves who now must immediately turn to Plan B, which may involve acquiring a big outfield bat (like Marcell Ozuna) instead of another third baseman. The Nats already invoked their Plan B, which includes Starlin Castro, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames and perhaps Carter Kieboom.
No, it’s not an ideal scenario. A deal with Donaldson - or, better yet, a deal to keep Rendon - would’ve been better. But the Nationals will just have to make do with what they’ve now got across their infield.
And if nothing else, they’ll take solace knowing they at least don’t have to face Donaldson for the next four years with their chief division rival.