High School Sports

If Josh Donaldson isn’t available, what’s driving Cardinals’ ongoing pursuit?

Toronto Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson throws to first base during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017.
Toronto Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson throws to first base during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. AP file

Die-hard fans know that the best part of baseball is the game behind the game.

That’s just as true in the offseason.

To wit: The Toronto Blue Jays began denying the availability of third baseman Josh Donaldson almost as soon as the Houston Astros popped the cork on their first bottle of World Series champagne, yet here we are a few days before Christmas and the Cardinals are still knocking on the Blue Jays’ door.

What’s going on behind the scenes to provoke the Cardinals continued interest here?

St. Louis already has made a splash this month by bolstering the bullpen with free agent pitcher Miles Mikolas, acquiring a handful of prospects for displaced outfielder Stephen Piscotty, and trading for slugger Marcell Ozuna.

Apart from a new closer and possibly another arm for the rotation, the Redbirds also seem intent on adding another big bat to protect Ozuna. Ideally, that bat would bring a defensive upgrade at third base.

Manny Machado looked like a possibility as MLB’s Winter Meetings wrapped up last Thursday, even though he’ll be a free agent this time next year. But that trail went cold once the Orioles denied suitors permission to negotiate a contract extension.

Cardinals’ General Manager Mike Girsch and President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak have both said they don’t fancy the notion of trading a bevy of prospects for a player who can move on after a single season.

Donaldson, who will be a free agent after 2018, too. As recently as Monday, however, national baseball writer Bob Nightengale has reported the Cardinals on-going interest in the 2015 American League MVP. It’s the rumor that won’t die.

Why the conflict? Is this just a lot of hot stove league smoke?

Maybe.

But maybe the Cardinals see a couple really good reasons the Blue Jays should move Donaldson now.

Do the Blue Jays want to risk losing him without return? What other pieces are they going to add that makes them competitive in the AL East, where the Yankees now pair Giancarlo Stanton with Aaron Judge in the middle of their order?

And what of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? He’s No. 2 overall prospect in all of baseball and, you guessed it, a third baseman. What kind of extension would the Blue Jays invest in Donaldson — who made $17 million last year and is arbitration eligible — with his promising and cost-controlled replacement waiting in the wings?

The Cardinals would face similar risks, of course. Donaldson just turned 32 years old. Extending him at this point may mean taking him on for some unproductive years (think Jhonny Peralta).

Then again, Donaldson’s 162-game averages tell us to expect him to hit .277 with 34 home runs, 103 RBIs and a .510 slugging percentage. If the Cardinals are looking to make fast ground on the Cubs in 2018, he’ll fit nicely behind Ozuna in either the cleanup or No. 5 spot in the order.

Maybe that’s why Mo and Co. keeping making pests of themselves. What other factors known only unto the involved parties are keeping this hot-stove talk alive?

Stay tuned ...

Sports Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman

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