On November 29th, the baseball world was shocked to learn that Oakland had traded Josh Donaldson to Toronto. The All-Star third baseman still had four more years under team control and had provided the A’s with 53 home runs and 191 RBI the previous two seasons. He was unquestionably the focal point of the team’s offense and hardly could be replaced in the lineup. But the persistent general manager of the Blue Jays, Alex Anthopoulos, finally put together a package which Billy Beane couldn’t resist, and Donaldson was on his way to Ontario.
In return, Oakland received infielder Brett Lawrie, two young pitchers, Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin, and an 18-year-old shortstop, Franklin Barreto. There’s nothing we can do as fans except to accept trades like this. But as hard as it is to see all those RBI leave, I am excited to see Lawrie in the Green & Gold.
Firstly, his name is pronounced like “Lori”, not “Lowry” or “Law-ree.” Secondly, I believe the A’s are getting a defensive upgrade at third base. You can study basic numbers like fielding percentage, which is one of the most useless stats in baseball because it doesn’t measure range, but you will see a career .962 for Lawrie and a .954 for Donaldson. You can also plainly see the errors: Lawrie with 35 in 332 games and Donaldson with a horrific 51 in 376 games. But errors are a scorer’s decision, and it’s almost impossible to receive one from any of the official scorers employed to work games at the Coliseum. With my own eyes last year I saw Donaldson get a sweetheart break on at least 10 errors because he was the darling of the offense.
Another hare-brained excuse some people make for the high number of Donaldson errors is that “he gets to more balls than most guys,” as if that’s a compliment. Playing third base like a linebacker is great when you make a rare web-gem on the tarp, but it’s counterproductive when you cut in front of every routine ground ball hit to shortstop and let men reach base unnecessarily. It was also maddening to see Donaldson’s wild arm every single game. He routinely bounced throw after throw to first base, which didn’t help because the A’s were not using great defenders over there.
Yet my biggest problem with Donaldson’s defense wasn’t his throng of apologists, it was how bone-headed his decisions were. You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and know when fold ‘em, as Kenny Rogers once said. I’ll never question Donaldson’s toughness or his desire, but I will certainly not miss his glove one iota. The runs he drove in will be missed sorely, however.
I asked Lawrie after the trade if his excessive time spent on the DL was a sign of his durability or merely a case of tough breaks. He was sure that he had been rather unlucky on the injury front and presently is feeling 100% healthy. But it was my first conversation with Lawrie which made a big impression on me. Back in 2011, when he was first called up by the Blue Jays, he had set Major League Baseball on fire with a hot start. In fact, he had just hit his first-ever grand slam at the Skydome off of A’s reliever Craig Breslow the previous week. He was the talk of baseball and everyone wanted to see this kid. I approached him during BP and asked if he had a couple of minutes for a quick interview. He was more than gracious and answered all my questions sincerely, one of which was whether or not he still thought about the Brewers at all. You might recall that Milwaukee had traded the jewel of their minor league system to acquire pitcher Sean Marcum after the 2010 season, and it had now looked like a Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell type of deal. “That’s ancient history,” he confirmed to me, even though it had only been eight months previous. But the point was made, he was not looking back, and I’m sure he feels the same way again now that he’s here.
We’ve no way of knowing if he’ll live up to the hype he once showed, but he’s still four years younger than Donaldson at 24 and has a shot to prove he can deliver. Remember, he was the 16th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Some of the names that went ahead of him include Hosmer, Posey, Smoak, Weeks, Wallace, and two Beckhams. As that list proves, some have become stars and others have not. He’s got a fantastic opportunity now to play third base every day for a team that’s made the playoffs the last three seasons. He also will be under a very dim bulb of media scrutiny, because I’m the only media member in the world who demands the A’s win. The Bay Area is a very soft environment for press pressure – it ain’t New York, that’s for sure. So now that Donaldson is in Canada, it’s time to move on and embrace who we have. I have a feeling you just might like him.