April 24, 2014

Jason Donald: Trade Bait or Center Fielder?

Most of this off-season, I’ve been hoping the Indians trade Jason Donald.

This stance developed for two main reasons, neither of which had anything to do with a lack of confidence in Jason Donald.

First, I really do think Donald has some legitimate value, which might at first seem an odd reason to want to trade him.  As I’ve written before, his minor league numbers look pretty darn good (.805 career OPS).  He hits LHP fairly well.  He has significant versatility, able to play three infield positions and rumors that he’s adding the outfield to his repertoire as well.  On top of that, he has accrued only 1.057 years of ML service, meaning that he’ll be cost-controlled for up to five more seasons.  I can see how an acquiring team would much rather hand an everyday job to Donald rather than Ryan Theriot or (gulp) Orlando Cabrera.

Second, the Indians don’t really seem to have an everyday spot for Donald, which makes moving him that much easier.  It just so happens that both SS and 2B—Donald’s two most natural positions—have pretty significant roadblocks on the Indians’ roster.  Furthermore, with Hannahan and Chisenhall likely to suck up most of the playing time at third, it looks like the Indians won’t be able to find enough at bats for Donald to get any real value out of him.  He seems stuck in an odd position—he’s probably good enough to start on plenty of teams, just not the 2012 Indians.  And yes, that’s a weird sentence to write.

Where does that leave us?  Well, it left me thinking that Jason Donald has more value to someone else than he does in a super-utility role on the Indians.  If the team could acquire a young-ish first baseman by packaging Donald and a bullpen arm or two?  I’d happily do it, since everyday position players are invariably more valuable than bench players and relievers.

For the record, I think I’d still do a deal like that.  But Terry Pluto sure is muddying the waters for me.  On Sunday, Pluto posited that Donald is likely to start in centerfield for those games where the Tribe is facing a lefty starter.  Since Pluto typically crafts his Sunday pieces from direct conversations with the Tribe front office, you have to think this is more than just spit-balling: Antonetti and Acta have probably discussed this idea, and liked it enough to leak it to Pluto.

And I think I probably like it too.  Not only is our lineup overwhelmingly left-handed (Choo, Hafner, Sizemore, Kipnis, Chisenhall, and Brantley all hit from the left side), but Sizemore’s splits against LHP—which have never been great—have nose-dived over last several years.  Couple that with his inevitable need for rest, and Donald taking over in center from time-to-time makes plenty of sense.  It should provide the team with a boost against LHP and provide Donald with a chance to play more regularly than a utility IF role might afford.

The question, of course, will be whether Donald has the defensive acumen to handle centerfield.  It doesn’t appear that he’s ever played in the outfield professionally, much less in what’s commonly thought to be the most difficult outfield position of all: center field.  He has a reputation as an athletic freak/gym rat, so it would seem the Indians are counting on speed and athleticism making up for a lack of experience.

Hey, if it worked for Ryan Garko…

  • Anonymous

    yeah, i did a double-take when I read that from Pluto.  first, Brantley to 1B.  now, Donald to CF?  we’re going to have the super-utility team!

    no idea if Donald can handle CF.  that’s a tough one.  but, it does open up possibilities and give us a more malleable lineup.  i guess we should just cross our fingers and hope for the best.

    of course, Kipnis was a stand-out CF in his college days and Donald plays alot of 2B.  just saying.

  • Matt Underwood

    you’ve got to be kidding me – Donald, CF?  Brantley, 1B?

    this team continues to go to platoons even though they have blown up in their faces at every attempt.  

    Square peg, round hole, idiot front office. 

  • Steve

    This is about the lowest form of analysis possible. Yes the team has tried to increase its flexibility, which is all this is. That the Indians can’t find established specific roles for mediocre to role player talents means they probably have quite a bit of talent already on the field. And of course, the Perez-Broussard platoon. Man, that was just terrible.

  • indiansup

    I really like the dislike the first scenario i.e. trading Donald, but think alot of the latter.  I penned a comment on the message boards earlier about the possibility of Donald playing in the outfield, before I was even aware that he was working in the off season on the outfield or being considered for the position.  I like his grit, work ethic and mentality.  I believe he has what it takes to be much more than a role player and could develope into a very good player if not a star.  To trade him would be a grave mistake without seeing what he can do in the next couple of years.

  • Donvanness

    Jason Donald is going to have a breakout year as an infielder. He may not be abe to break into the line-up until a starting ss gets hurt, but he’ll whack .300 and field .995 if he gets to play every day. He should not be asked to play OF, unless it’s a starting spot he’s asked to fill. Playing him less than every day is a bad move for a legitimate 5 tool player, which he is.