Donaldson’s injury setback a disaster for all parties

Blue Jays voice Buck Martinez joins the Jeff Blair Show to gauge trade interest for J.A. Happ, says the Blue Jays should sit back and let the buyers come to them and set the price.

HOUSTON — Josh Donaldson’s disappointing season has taken its latest sour turn, as the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman re-injured his left calf while rehabilitating at the club’s facility in Dunedin, Fla., and will miss at least the next three weeks.

The injury occurred as Donaldson was taking groundballs while preparing to play in a rehab game. An MRI revealed an acute strain of Donaldson’s left calf, and the 32-year-old will now sit out until mid-July when his injury will be re-evaluated.

“He was moving along fine, and then something happened,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “It’s been a frustrating year for him. He’s actually been hanging in there okay, all things considered. But he’s frustrated.”

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Let’s take stock of how we got here. Donaldson entered 2018 — his final year before free agency — on a run of three consecutive seasons in which he posted an OPS of .939 or higher. Over the last five seasons, Donaldson’s 34.1 wins above replacement was second to only Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. Any way you slice it, he’s been one of the most valuable players in the game since his breakout campaign in 2013.

With that in mind, and with brief contract negotiations between his representatives and the Blue Jays this spring having gone nowhere, Donaldson was hoping to replicate that productivity in 2018, setting a strong platform to a large financial windfall during his first trip to free agency this coming winter. That’s where things went awry.

After playing sparsely during spring training due to a minor calf issue and shoulder fatigue, he began the regular season playing through what the Blue Jays described as a “dead arm” phase. His throwing from third base was clearly affected, and after only 12 games he went on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

He returned three weeks later and was noticeably more comfortable making throws from third. He was in the Blue Jays lineup every day until May 28, when he left a game in the fifth inning with left calf tightness. Donaldson hasn’t played since.

Now, he’ll be out until at least the all-star break and almost certainly beyond as he tries to get back up to speed. It’s worth noting Donaldson has dealt with similar issues in the past, missing a third of the season in 2017 due to a strain in his right calf.

Through the 36 games he’s played this season, Donaldson is hitting .234/.333/.423 with five home runs — a respectable line, but well below the elite level of production he’s demonstrated over the last half decade. His 27.7 per cent strikeout rate is well above his career average, and his .190 isolated power is well below.

From the Blue Jays perspective, what was thought to be one of the club’s most tantalizing chips ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is now off the table. With so much uncertainty surrounding when Donaldson will be able to play again, and how productive he’ll be when he returns, it will be impossible for the Blue Jays to find the return they were once anticipating for the 2015 MVP winner.

Now, the Blue Jays will hope Donaldson can return before long and be productive so the team can explore a possible August trade, which would require putting him on waivers. If he isn’t traded before the end of the season, the Blue Jays would then have a decision to make regarding extending Donaldson a one-year qualifying offer, which would be in the $17-18 million range.

From Donaldson’s perspective, the first half of his season has been nothing short of disastrous. His value on the open market has plummeted considerably, and with each day he’s out of action and not producing in the majors, dollars bleed off the free agent contract he was hoping to sign this coming off-season.

Of course, it’s possible Donaldson could return late this season and prove he’s still the prodigious hitter he’s been in the past. In 2017, Donaldson struggled at the plate until late July, before going on a ridiculous tear through the end of the season, batting .303/.407/.697 with 24 home runs over his final 55 games.

But the clock is ticking. Toronto’s season will be well into its latter half by the time Donaldson is expected to return from his latest injury. And what he’s able to accomplish between that point and the end of the season will go a long way to resolving the many questions still to be answered.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

In other Blue Jays injury news, Jaime Garcia will see a specialist Thursday regarding the adverse symptoms he’s been experiencing with his left shoulder. Garcia will then report to the Blue Jays facility in Dunedin to work towards a rehab assignment.

Meanwhile, Blue Jays catching prospect Danny Jansen dodged a bullet Monday night after being hit by a pitch on his left wrist during a triple-A game. X-rays returned negative and Jansen is expected to return to the Buffalo Bisons lineup within a few days. The 23-year-old is having a stellar season with Buffalo, putting up a .299/.413/.474 line over his first 57 games.

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