For a three year span between 1988 and 1990, Fred McGriff performed the role Josh Donaldson has played since the start of 2015; being the star position player of the Toronto Blue Jays. But right in the middle of that period, a standout first baseman out of Washington State University was waiting in the wings, John Olerud.
Olerud went straight from the 1989 draft to the show, and by 1990, he was playing most days, but as the Designated Hitter. McGriff was no Keith Hernandez with the glove, but he wasn’t leaving first base for an inexperienced rookie.
At age 21, Olerud was most likely at the peak of his athleticism, but he was only a threat on one side of the ball because of McGriff. He hit .265/.364/.430, finishing fourth in rookie of the year honors. It was now time for a move to be made by the club.
By the next season, McGriff was playing in San Diego and Olerud was manning first base. The Blue Jays maximized on McGriff’s value, trading him and Tony Fernandez for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, while Olerud had eased his way into the first-base role. It worked perfectly. Pat Gillick was one of the best at playing his cards.
Now three decades later, by all accounts, the Blue Jays are rushing to ship off Josh Donaldson. They don’t want to re-sign him and they also don’t want to be questioned later on as to why they did not extend him a qualifying offer.
There are most definitely multiple factors as to why they want to move on from Donaldson, but the biggest reason has to do with Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s development. The kid is ready to play big league ball and his time is now to shine.
By the way things are looking, Guerrero will be playing third base, meanwhile, Donaldson will be playing elsewhere. In doing this, the Blue Jays will have minimized on potential value. They will have done the opposite of what the Hall of Famer Gillick would’ve done.
Guerrero will be blasted into the spotlight with no teammate with a comparable name. He will also be manning third base with possibly not enough defensive development. He’s a different breed, but he’d still be a 20-year-old playing in the bright lights of Toronto.
Here’s an idea: Hold on to Donaldson. It’s not worth trading one of the greatest Blue Jays ever for the probable offer. It’s no way to say goodbye to a star, and it’s certainly not fair to the fanbase either.
Then in the off-season, extend Donaldson a qualifying offer, and if he declines, take a risk and offer him the $20M+ that he probably deserves. Sign him as the third baseman.
Hire back, Brian Butterfield. Put the defensive future of your potential franchise cornerstone in the hands of one of the greatest coaches of all-time. And let Guerrero continue to develop at third base while playing just occasional games at the position. Divisional rival third basemen Miguel Andujar and Rafael Devers have been forced to learn on the go, an approach that’s hurt their fielding development.
Let Guerrero mash in the DH spot for the year. And if out of contention at the all-star break, trade Donaldson for assets.
Although the Blue Jays were in contention, this idea is similar to what they did with John Olerud and Fred McGriff almost 30 years ago.
Only an ideal scenario would allow for this, but it is possible. It just takes creativity and a bit of luck. Just like anything else.
Take a risk. That’s how you win. That’s how Pat Gillick won. And that’s why the Blue Jays were once upon a time back-to-back World Series Champs.
That’s how the Blue Jays will be World Series Champions again.
(Featured Photo: Hans Deryk/The Canadian Press)