3 years later, Cleveland Indians stole Josh Donaldson from Toronto
In sports there’s a three-year time table that is often talked about for evaluating moves, specifically ones that involve prospects or the draft. For the Cleveland Indians, three years ago consisted of a game of musical chairs among third basemen within the club. Prospect Gio Urshela was moved to Toronto in May for a player to be named later or cash only to later be replaced by former MVP and fellow Blue Jay Josh Donaldson in August.
Coming to Cleveland on the last possible day a trade could be made, the move to acquire Donaldson was met with some uncertainty around baseball. He was injured at the time and the Tribe nearly immediately placed him on the IL (then DL) upon arrival. Nevertheless, Cleveland only sent a player to be named later and cash to Toronto for the few months of Donaldson.
Typically, rental trades like this involve a unknown prospect and that ended up being the case here. In October, the Cleveland Indians sent the Blue Jays pitcher Julian Merryweather to complete the deal.
Merryweather debuted for Toronto on August 20, 2020 and has spent some time with the club this year as well. In total, he’s appeared in 12 games, starting three, and totaled 17.1 innings pitched. Over that time he’s accumulated an ERA of 3.12 while striking out 22 batters and registering two saves. Those are rather steady numbers, but in the grand scheme of things the Cleveland Indians clearly stole Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Being a bullpen arm, Merryweather wouldn’t serve much of a purpose for the Tribe right now. The bullpen is already overflowing with arms and while Merryweather has starting experience at the major league level, there’s a reason he was moved to the pen.
As for Donaldson, he totaled just 19 games for the Tribe in 2018 with 16 being in the regular season and three in the postseason. He struggled in the playoffs against Houston, but his regular season sample size played a large part in Cleveland winning the American League Central.
The acquisition of Donaldson allowed the team to play around with the lineup more. Donaldson was the designated hitter a few times, but predominately played third. That allowed Jose Ramirez to get time at second base as well as DH and pushed Jason Kipnis into center field. While some players were tossed around the field, the addition of Donaldson gave Cleveland one of the more dangerous lineups in baseball at the time.
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During the regular season, Donaldson was able to slash .280/.400/.520 for the Tribe, including three doubles and three home runs. Just a few years removed from his MVP season, there was concern that Donaldson’s injury would play a large role in what was considered to be a risky move.
With Donaldson coming off the injury and being acquired with only a month left in the season, it was clear that the move was for the postseason. While Cleveland’s stay in the postseason was short lived that season, the move still seems to strongly favor the Tribe.
When the trade happened, the Cleveland Indians had one of the best bullpens in baseball with Cody Allen, Brad Hand and Andrew Miller. The starting rotation was also thriving with Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and some kid rookie named Shane Bieber. There was little need for Merryweather, so having him be the player to be named later helps the case for the Tribe.
While a trade like this isn’t possible anymore since the waiver period for trades is now obsolete, a similar move to acquire an expiring contract in a cheap deal might be on the table for the Tribe in the coming month.
Due to the timing of the trade, Cleveland paid less than $1.2 million of Donaldson’s $23 million contract that season. The low-cost of the trade, cheap contract and rather high return over a short time could be the perfect recipe for a 2021 Cleveland Indians trade deadline move. The only difference is that the tables might be turned this time around.
In 2018 the Cleveland Indians stole Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline for a minor league pitcher. In 2021, Cleveland might need to trade a minor league infielder for a starting pitcher with an expiring contract.