Why Josh Donaldson deal could force MLB trade deadline changes

Ross Atkins talks with the media about why this upcoming season for the Toronto Blue Jays could greatly affect the franchise in the following years.

CARLSBAD, Calif. — Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins supports the idea of a simplified trade deadline with a mid-August cut-off and an end to the revocable waiver period, a topic he and his fellow GMs discussed during the opening day of the General Managers Meetings.

As things stand now, the non-waiver trade deadline is July 31, but teams can still make deals afterwards by running players through revocable waivers. Anyone that passes through unclaimed can then be traded to any of the other 29 clubs, while a claimed player can either be withdrawn from waivers, be let go to a claiming team for nothing, or be traded to the team that wins a claim.

To be eligible for the post-season, players must be in the organization on Aug. 31, which has inadvertently become a secondary deadline. Unease with the way teams are now manipulating the process landed it on the agenda at the La Costa Resort and Spa, as first reported by MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.

“I like one (deadline) and it being a little bit later,” said Atkins. “The longer you keep teams in it, the better it is for baseball. Forcing teams maybe to make a decision before they want to could turn into seeing the dominant teams just roll through August and September. And then the complications of trade waivers and those trades that happen end up just turning into September call-ups for teams because one team would potentially not want to pay that guy an extra month, and that’s not good.

“Those are just a couple of the complications. But there a lot of unintended consequences. It’s not that simple just to make those changes. There are a lot of reasons those rules are in place.”

Still, there’s believed to be some momentum for the idea and one of the catalysts for the shift may have been the Blue Jays’ messy Aug. 31 waiver trade of Josh Donaldson to Cleveland for right-hander Julian Merryweather.

Donaldson was put on revocable waivers Aug. 29, the day after starting a rehab assignment, in a rush to get him through in time to be traded Aug. 31. Injured players can’t be put on revocable waivers so Major League Baseball had to be able to certify that he was capable of playing up to his regular abilities, further complicating the process.

Eventually that happened, Donaldson cleared and he was dealt to Cleveland, which subsequently placed him back on the disabled list. The entire saga prompted the Red Sox and Yankees to complain to Major League Baseball about how the deal went down, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported in early September.

The Blue Jays also snuck in another deal ahead of the Aug. 31 cutoff, sending Curtis Granderson to Milwaukee for Canadian minor-leaguer Demi Orimoloye, as contenders have become more active ahead of the final month in recent years.

The Houston Astros, for instance, added Justin Verlander from Detroit minutes before Sept. 1 in 2017, and he tipped the scales in their World Series victory.

An August deadline, perhaps 50 days out from the season’s end, would give bubble teams more time to decide whether to sell or buy ahead of the trade deadline, and eliminate the entire revocable waiver process, which teams in the past used to assess the interest of other clubs in certain players but now is just a rote procedural dump of talent to create options.

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Elsewhere, things you hear skulking around at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa during the GM Meetings:

• Another topic of discussion among the GMs, one that carries more impetus every year, is placing some sort of limitation on player usage once rosters expand in September. The Blue Jays, for example, brought up 39 of the 40 players on their roster this season and the bigger rosters mean more pitching changes, which impacts pace of game.

A more sensible approach is allow rosters to expand while limiting the amount of players that can be used on a given day.

“Integrity is a big word just to throw out there, but I think a little bit more restriction in and around that, and typically the more flexibility the better for GMs, would probably be a good thing,” said Atkins.

• The San Francisco Giants’ hiring of Farhan Zaidi as their president of baseball operations leaves the Baltimore Orioles as the only team without someone in the role. Where Ben Cherington, the Blue Jays’ vice president of baseball operations, stands in that process is unclear, but Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun reported last week that he either has been or will be contacted for the Orioles.

That hasn’t prevented Cherington from participating in the Blue Jays’ business this off-season, and he’s in Carlsbad, business as usual in his duties with the club.

• While Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto is the prize backstop available on the trade market, Russell Martin is believed to be of some interest to contending clubs. There may be up to four potential suitors for the Blue Jays veteran, one source suggested, with the Brewers, Astros and Braves thought to be among the potential landing spots.

Milwaukee used veteran stopgap Erik Kratz behind the plate during the post-season, Houston’s tandem is in free agency and Atlanta is looking to complement Tyler Flowers. The Dodgers, Mets and Rays are also seeking catching help, and the demand creates an opportunity to move Martin if the Blue Jays can find the sweet spot between paying down his $20-million salary and the prospect return.

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• Where does Lourdes Gurriel Jr. end up playing next year for the Blue Jays? “There’s a lot of discussion in and around that and it correlates with Aledmys Diaz and some other key pieces in our organization,” said Atkins. “Ideally it’s in the middle and we’ll spend some time on that with him this off-season. I think making a decision for him to play one position last year, predominantly being at short, was helpful. Moving off of short is the easiest move.”

• Another piece of the Blue Jays puzzle without an obvious fit right now is Brandon Drury, and the way Atkins spoke of him as a third baseman raised some antennas since they won’t be blocking off the hot corner with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. coming.

“He wants to play third. He loves third base and thinks he can be elite there. We agree with him. We feel like if he got a chance to do it on a daily basis that he could be a special third baseman,” said Atkins. “At the same time, the value of his versatility, having done it before, we’re excited about where he is from a vision perspective and having come off the migraines. Hopefully that impacts every aspect of his game. Most players would prefer to just play one position and that be where they’re pencilled into the lineup every day. But more and more versatility has a premium.”

Sure sounds like a marketing pitch, but the belief is he’s unlikely to be traded, at least until he rebuilds some value next season.

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