Donaldson contract negotiations a balancing act for Blue Jays

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins weighs in on the Josh Donaldson contract talks, says JD’s interest to remain with this club is authentic, and so is their mutual interest in him.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – At surface level, the comments made by Josh Donaldson and Ross Atkins are incongruous.

On Thursday Donaldson said he expects to hit free agency after the 2018 season. On Friday, Atkins said “We feel good about the potential of him being here long-term.”

So who should we believe if Donaldson says he ‘turning the page’ and Atkins says he’s optimistic? Ultimately, although Donaldson and Atkins stressed different points in their respective media availabilities, they were aligned on most key details with no appearance of awkwardness or animosity. Whether that leads to an extension is another question altogether.

Both acknowledged that extension talks had taken place between the Blue Jays’ front office and Dan Lozano, Donaldson’s agent. Both said talks were open and amicable. And both said that they hope to reach a deal but prefer to focus on the team as a whole for now.

“We went into (talks) thinking that we’d do everything to realize a deal,” Atkins said. “In the case of Josh Donaldson, the impact that he has had and will continue to have on a major-league roster, we felt it was important to give a solid effort and we’ll continue to do that.”

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The contrast appears when you look at which points they stressed. Donaldson made it clear that the sides are ‘not at the same type of area, the same ballpark.’ He said he wasn’t ‘eye to eye’ with the club when they talked parameters and, presumably, dollars.

Atkins didn’t focus on those differences. He highlighted the possibility that a deal could still be reached, either before Donaldson reaches free agency, or even once he hits the open market this fall.

“I think it’s ‘yet,’” Atkins said. “We haven’t realized a deal yet.”

Just as Donaldson stressed his appreciation for the front office, Atkins was full of praise for the former AL MVP. By all accounts, the Blue Jays and their best player remain on good terms. More to the point, Atkins said there’s no doubt in his mind that Donaldson wants to stay with the Blue Jays for years to come.

“It’s authentic,” Atkins said. “There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind. It’s such an interesting process for a player of his calibre because he feels a responsibility to this organization, he feels a responsibility to the city, he feels a responsibility to his teammates and he also feels a responsibility to the industry. It’s an interesting balance for a player of this calibre that he’s managing very well.”

The Blue Jays have a balancing act of their own. Offer Donaldson too little and they lose one of the best players in baseball after the season. Offer him too much and they risk paying substantially for decline years.

“I feel that I have several more years of performing at a high level,” Donaldson said. “I truly believe that where I’m at today, I have longevity in this game.”

For the Blue Jays, there’s nothing to be gained from shutting down talks or ruling out the possibility of a deal. They need Donaldson happy and productive in the short-term, at the very least.

Yet from Donaldson’s standpoint, talks aren’t close and he’d prefer to focus on the field. He still expects to hit free agency. At this point, that’s more telling than the mutual optimism surrounding contract talks.

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