Third baseman Josh Donaldson has been on the Injured List since the beginning of April. The longer he’s out, the more speculation there is that the Yankees might not want him back.
Josh Donaldson has only played in five MLB games during the 2023 season, sidelined with a hamstring strain since early April. A recent setback on his road to recovery extended his timeline for return, slicing his thumb at home. Donaldson just can’t catch a break; his return to the New York Yankees keeps getting kicked down the line.
A recently circulated tweet posted by a season-ticket holder holds a rumor that Donaldson believes that the Yankees have him on the “Ellsbury rehab timeline” and that he thinks the Yankees are paying him to stay away.
The Ellsbury timeline refers to outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury who last played for the Yankees in 2017. He missed all of the 2018 and 2019 seasons with multiple reported injuries before the Yankees finally designated him for assignment following the 2019 season. While it isn’t proven that Donaldson said this, or maybe he said it as a joke, it isn’t really that crazy of a thought. The Yankees are benefiting from Donaldson being on the shelf.
Could the Yankees DFA Josh Donaldson next?
Donaldson’s defense was solid last year, but his offensive production was abysmal. During the regular season, he hit .222 with a .682 OPS. In the 2022 postseason, he went 5-for-29 with 16 strikeouts. Donaldson was basically an automatic out during the playoffs. He batted .077 in 13 at bats during the American League Championship Series. Last season, he showed that he’s not able to keep up with the velocity of MLB pitching anymore. While 2023 is a small sample size, he hit .125 with one RBI in the first week of the season before going on the I.L.
Earlier in the spring, manager Aaron Boone spoke about Donaldson’s offensive troubles.
“I think you’re crazy to think that a bounce-back is not in there offensively,” Boone said.
As part of his job, Boone tried to instill confidence in Donaldson with positive words. Or perhaps, he was trying to send a message to other teams that Donaldson still has trade value left. Boone insisted Donaldson was in a better place than he was in 2022. Let’s be real, though, in his age 37 season, Donaldson’s best days are behind him. The bounce-back that Boone is hoping for is unlikely.
There’s a possibility that Donaldson could be the next Yankee to be DFA’d. The Yankees recently DFA’d longtime outfielder Aaron Hicks. The reason Donaldson hasn’t been DFA’d yet? He’s earning $21 million this year. There’s a $6 million mutual option on his contract for 2024. That’s a lot of money to eat, but it’s what’s best for the team at this point. The front office was willing to part with Hicks despite his massive salary, so perhaps Donaldson is next.
Josh Donaldson is taking up space on the Yankees roster
Frankly, Donaldson isn’t needed at third base. The Yankees lose nothing by playing utility infielder DJ LeMahieu at third. He can hold his own at first, second, and third. He’s made some sparkling plays at the hot corner. With LeMahieu in the lineup, the Yankees gain his clutch hitting. While he’s currently batting .252 with a .737 OPS, the two-time batting champion’s average should go up.
On a day off for LeMahieu or a day that he’s stepping in at first base or second base while Anthony Rizzo or Gleyber Torres gets the day off, the Yankees have other options for third base. They have utility player Isiah Kiner-Falefa who is a Gold Glove winner at third, and they have another utility player in Oswaldo Cabrera. Neither IKF nor Cabrera has been stellar at the plate this season, but their ability to play multiple positions makes them more valuable than Donaldson.
Ultimately, Donaldson is a waste of a roster spot at this point. His large contract certainly deters the Yankees from DFAing him, but they might need to cut their losses. It would be ridiculous to have Donaldson start regularly over LeMahieu, and there’s no room for him to take up space on the roster as a back up over a utility player like Cabrera.
Are the Yankees paying Josh Donaldson to stay away from the team? Probably not, but maybe they should be.