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Mets may find Josh Donaldson is the solution the offense needs

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HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 06: Josh Donaldson #27 of the Cleveland Indians throws out a runner at first base in the second inning against the Houston Astros during Game Two of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on October 6, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 06: Josh Donaldson #27 of the Cleveland Indians throws out a runner at first base in the second inning against the Houston Astros during Game Two of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on October 6, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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With all of the talk about the New York Mets adding a big offensive weapon to the roster this winter, many have overlooked former MVP Josh Donaldson as a possible solution.

New York Mets haven’t seen him much, but let’s talk about a guy who could help them out immensely. Josh Donaldson was never supposed to be in this position. After three straight All-Star seasons from 2014 to 2016, including a magnificent MVP season in the middle, the 32-year-old third baseman has played just 165 games in his last two seasons, a mere 52 in 2018 alone.

However, Donaldson, who has been traded thrice in his career and is now hitting the hot stove for the first time, is still primed to make some dough this winter–just maybe not as much as he could be.

Donaldson has certainly taken a back seat to fellow free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. He was supposed to be the third member of this winter’s offensive triumvirate, but shoulder and calf injuries have gotten in the way.

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Health, Shmealth!

Thing is, if a team (read: Mets) isn’t inking Donaldson to a 4-year deal, health is likely the only thing to worry about.

In Donaldson’s 165 games in ’17 and ’18, with Toronto and Cleveland, he produced similarly to any of his full seasons since his first in 2013:

165 Games, 715 PA, .525 SLG, 139 OPS+, 41 HR, 101 RBI, 6.0 WAR

What has the potential to cause worry with Donaldson may be his versatility; a shoulder injury, in particular, is a concern for any third baseman, and he’s only made 20 appearances away from the hot corner in his major league career. From 2014 to 2016, Donaldson ranked 3rd in the majors among qualified third basemen in Defensive Runs Saved–25.7, just 0.5 behind…Manny Machado–but if continuous shoulder problems boil his arm into a soft noodle, there could be a problem.

But Wait, What About Todd Frazier?

Bringing in a new GM to any sports team can either be refreshing or debilitating–there seems to be no middle ground. During his introductory press conference Tuesday, Brodie Van Wagenen promised to build a winning Mets team, now and in the future.

The Hot Stove is barely melting butter right now, but if Van Wagenen means to prove that statement, he should get creative. The Mets’ boots are stuck in a handful of muddy contracts–Jason Vargas, Jay Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes–but to accommodate Donaldson without (further) clogging up first base, Todd Frazier will have to go.

The good news is that Frazier is the Mets’ most tradeable vet. He is owed $9 million for 2019 and then he’s off the books. Frazier could make a solid corner infielder/Designated Hitter for a contending A.L. team in need of some righty pop, but he could really go anywhere. His identity as a clubhouse leader will attract other front offices as well, but this isn’t about speculating a Frazier deal. Let’s move on.

How to Woo Donaldson

Eduardo Escobar, a 3.5 WAR third baseman in 2018, just signed a 3-year/$21 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s possible that Donaldson waits until the inevitable monster Machado contract to gauge the market and create leverage, but he may be working in his own unique situation. He won’t accept another one-year deal, not after this nightmare of a season. He might, however, budge on something creative.

Van Wagenen negotiated Yoenis Cespedes’ 2016 deal with the Mets, which consisted of a potential player opt-out after a $17 million first year followed by a bumped salary around $23 million in 2017 and 2018. Cespedes opted out after 2016 and signed a new deal the following winter. Van Wagenen should tempt Donaldson with something similar, say, $54 million over 3 years with player options after ’19 and ’20.

Donaldson is the type of player who will have similar offers from various teams. He’s been linked to the St. Louis Cardinals forever. Maybe Cleveland wants him back. Or maybe Donaldson wants the most financially formulated deal on the menu.

But the Mets have piles of cards to play. Donaldson has spent his entire career in smaller markets–maybe it’s time for a bigger stage. Maybe he can be even better in the NL; Donaldson owns a .939 OPS, 24 HR, and 74 RBI in just 101 career games against National League opponents.

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Whatever the case, if the Mets want to compete in 2019, it would be foolish not to try.

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