Josh Donaldson putting extension talks aside to focus on 2018

Josh Donaldson and the Toronto Blue Jays are setting aside long-term contract talks, saying “we’re not there right now,” but he’s still really happy in Toronto and wants to focus on winning in 2018.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Josh Donaldson will play the 2018 season for the Toronto Blue Jays. He expects to continue producing at an elite level and believes this edition of the team can surprise some people.

But, barring an unexpected development, Donaldson will hit free agency this fall. He and his agent, Dan Lozano, talked extension with the Blue Jays this spring. The sides didn’t get to the point of exchanging concrete proposals, according to Donaldson, nor did they need to.

They realized that they were “not at the same type of area, the same ballpark” for an extension, and so they moved on.

“We’re not quite there,” Donaldson said. “That, to me, right now is not the major focus and I’m turning the page.

“I want to play this season and really focus on winning games, because, ultimately, our goal is to win a World Series and I don’t want to hinder that at all.”

Asked if he expects to hit free agency in the fall, Donaldson replied “yes,” but added that he’s hopeful that changes and hasn’t ruled out further talks. He praised team president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins for their open communication style and said he came away from negotiations feeling wanted.

“I’m extremely happy with what’s transpired throughout this time,” Donaldson said. “I believe they want me. If they didn’t want me, we wouldn’t be having any type of discussions.”

That said, there’s a difference between wanting to keep a former MVP and offering to pay him top dollar on a long-term deal. One way or another, the Blue Jays weren’t “eye to eye” with Donaldson.

Donaldson said he will no longer address the topic of his free agency publicly because he wants to direct all of his focus on the coming season. The Blue Jays finished 76-86 last year, but Donaldson believes the 2018 team can surpass expectations.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re on anybody’s radar at this point,” he said. “Which is fine. I believe this team has confidence in itself and confidence as a whole and we believe that we’re very capable of doing damage throughout the season this year as far as winning a lot of games.”

A year ago, Donaldson hit .270/.385/.559 with 33 home runs and 5.0 wins above replacement, but he played in just 113 games because he missed time with a calf injury early in the season. He’s feeling stronger physically now and hopes to build on last year both offensively and defensively.

“I felt like I had a pretty successful season barring the injuries. My home run rate last year was the highest it’s ever been,” Donaldson said. “I didn’t feel like I played bad defence, but I definitely feel like there’s room for improvement from last year. I definitely think I can perform better and will perform better.”

For Donaldson, returning to the 150-plus game threshold is a priority. He played in at least 155 games from 2013-16 before last year’s injuries sidelined him.

“I want to be out there every day grinding it out there at third base, because I know the more that I’m out there, the better chance we have to win,” Donaldson said.

If he continues producing at an elite level, he’ll be a coveted free agent next winter, when Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw could also all hit free agency together. After all, just two players have generated more wins above replacement than Donaldson since he joined the Blue Jays: Mike Trout and Kris Bryant. Donaldson expects the 2018-19 free agent market to be strong.

Now 32, Donaldon’s entering his eighth big-league season, and while teams are understandably wary of paying top dollar for players’ decline years, he says it’s a “silly” over-simplification to assume all players decline in the same way.

“You have to look at the individual,” he said. “I don’t think you can throw all of us in one capacity as far as age is concerned. The game of baseball’s going to show you whether or not a guy’s capable of playing.”

Clearly, Donaldson’s capable of playing. The likes of Adrian Beltre (38) and Joey Votto (34) are, too. Those players are the exceptions, though. Far more common are the players who decline as they approach 35.

The Blue Jays wouldn’t have engaged with Donaldson on extension talks if they didn’t feel that he has a chance to remain elite beyond 2018, but whatever parameters they outlined didn’t align closely with Donaldson’s assessment of his own value, or those talks would have continued.

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

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