The Nationals at one point made Donaldson a four-year, $100 million offer to replace Anthony Rendon. It did include deferrals, according to a person with knowledge of the proposal, meaning Donaldson would have been paid out beyond the life of the contract. But when his market dragged along and the Nationals saw opportunities to spend elsewhere, they ditched Donaldson and brought in relievers Will Harris and Daniel Hudson, and infielders Starlin Castro, Eric Thames and Asdrúbal Cabrera.
There were frequent reports that, even after signing those players, the Nationals’ initial offer to Donaldson remained on the table. But they had not pursued him for a few weeks now, and they will sink around $25 million into Harris ($8 million), Castro ($6 million), Hudson ($5.5 million), Thames ($3 million) and Cabrera ($2.5 million) in 2020. Donaldson’s deal was first reported by MLB.com. The specifics, according to multiple reports, are that Donaldson will make $84 million over four years with a $16 million club option for a fifth, as well as an $8 million buyout. That means $92 million is guaranteed, and he can make $100 million across five seasons if the Twins choose to keep him.
There’s an argument that the Nationals should have met that price and used Donaldson to solidify the middle of their order and boost the defense of their World Series title. There’s maybe an even better argument that they should have just sprung big for Rendon, who signed a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels in December. But that Donaldson chose the Twins, and will play in the American League Central, is a great outcome for Washington.
The Braves were thought to be front-runners to keep him, especially after Donaldson hit 37 homers for them last season. That included six homers, 11 RBI and a .990 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 19 games against the Nationals. Now the Braves, like Washington, have a hole to fill in their lineup. And the Braves, like Washington, used a lot of resources to improve their bullpen this offseason.
Atlanta has internal options to replace Donaldson defensively, whether it’s with utility man Johan Camargo or 22-year-old Austin Riley. Power and protection behind Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman are what they’ll have to figure out.
The Nationals are in a similar boat. By not signing Donaldson, they have a variety of unproven options at third base. Cabrera started 90 games there for Texas last year but was released by the Rangers because of his uneven production. Castro made 36 starts at third base for the Miami Marlins, but the Nationals feel he best profiles as their everyday second baseman. Then there is Carter Kieboom, Washington’s top prospect, a natural shortstop who is learning the position. He will have a chance to prove himself in spring training. Howie Kendrick can moonlight at third if need be. None of these solutions would form the 3-4 combination that Rendon and Juan Soto was — or Soto and Donaldson could have been.
Instead, Donaldson will take his power to the Twins, who set the all-time home run record with 307 in 2019. No teams are happier about that than the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, who won’t have to face Donaldson in the NL East race. After that, the Nationals are glad he’s not with the Braves, the Braves are glad he’s not with the Nationals, and we’ll soon know which club needed him more.
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