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November 09, 2019

MLB free agency rumors: Phillies interested in veteran slugger Josh Donaldson

What would the former MVP cost? And what would his addition mean for the team's top infield prospect?

MLB free agency technically opened this past Monday, but it won't really pick up until this week when baseball's general managers descend on Scottsdale for their annual GM meetings ahead of next months Winter Meetings. But that doesn't mean there aren't rumors out there. 

According to one report, the Phillies are among the early suitors for veteran slugger Josh Donaldson, who is headed for free agency once he formally declines his qualifying offer from the Braves.

On a one-year deal with Atlanta last season, the 34-year-old third baseman slashed .259/.379/.521 to go along with 37 home runs, 94 RBI, 96 runs and a 6.1 WAR. The former American League MVP might be just what the Phillies need.

In fact, recently put out a list with one free agent for each team, and the guy linked to the Phillies is none other than... Donaldson:

Phillies: Josh Donaldson, 3B

Philadephia’s .725 OPS at third base ranked 24th in the Majors, with Maikel Franco's .692 OPS in 110 games accounting for the bulk of it. The Phillies could take a run at Anthony Rendon, but after shelling out a $330 million deal to Bryce Harper last year, they might prefer Donaldson, who will be seeking fewer years.  []

But there are drawbacks to signing Donaldson. For starters, there's his cost, which is projected to be about $25 million per year, according to MLB Trade Rumors, who ranks Donaldson as the fifth-best free agent and predicts he signs a three-year, $75 million deal with the other team he's been linked to, the Rangers. (Don't worry, they have the Phillies signing the No. 4 ranked free agent in Zack Wheeler.)

With the Phillies needing so much pitching help, it's really hard to see them splurging on a 34-year-old power bat if they plan on remaining under the luxury tax threshold. 

Phillies Nation‘s Jonny Heller projected this week that if the Phillies hope to stay under the luxury tax in 2019, they have about $42 million to spend. Spending $25 million of that one player would certainly cut into the Phillies ability to address their most pressing need: pitching, both starting and relieving. Of course, the Phillies could back-load the deal knowing that Jake Arrieta and David Robertson will come off the books after 2020. You don’t want to make it a habit of back-loading contracts, but the Phillies will need to be aggressive this offseason to catch up to the Nationals, Braves and New York Mets in the National League East.  []

There's also the implications for Alec Bohm, the organization's top position prospect who also happens to play third base and has been projected to join the club this coming season. Of course, they could move Bohm somewhere else, with first base being the most obvious place to stick him. Would that perhaps signify the team's desire to trade Rhys Hoskins, something that's been hinted at dating back to the season.

Ultimately, it would seem like a one-year deal would work best for the Phillies, but Donaldson just played on one of those prove-it deals for Atlanta last season following an injury-plagued 2018 season. It's safe to say he's looking for something with a few more years included. 

Additionally, the former Blue Jays and Athletics star will cost more than just his contract dollars or the possibility of stunting the development of a top prospect. He'll also cost a potential new team draft compensation, something Phillies GM Matt Klentak has already spoken out against this offseason.

Donaldson is a fiery leader who would certainly light a spark for these or other organizations. He’s also going to hit the market carrying draft compensation as an added cost of signing him. That always must be factored into an open-market offer, though it’s perhaps of particular note for the Rangers and Phillies. The former team is arguably not quite ready for a full push for contention, though the new Texas field (synthetic though it may be) could desperately use some of the rain that Donaldson is wont to bring. As for the Phils, they’re putting out word that they’re loath to surrender more draft picks this offseason. There may be something to that, but it’s also plainly a wiser public statement than last winter’s unintentional slogan.  []

There are a lot of what-ifs and moving parts in this, and it's obviously all just speculation. But that's life in the MLB offseason, so get ready — the stove is already heating up.

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