The New York Yankees seem reticent to move on from 37-year-old Josh Donaldson in the final year of his hefty contract unless they get the absolute perfect return from the GM of Brian Cashman's dreams.
Considering that's unlikely to happen, and the Yankees are going to need to eat significant money to move on from Donaldson, they've quickly moved onto Plan B: Overhype and Hope.
When the Yankees acquired Donaldson, worry warts were already skeptical. Sure, he was a former MVP. Sure, his hard-hit rates still seemed to indicate that, when he made contact, the ball typically went very far. Still, he was 36 years old -- and not a young 36, based on his injury history and wear-and-tear.
The nay sayers seemed to have an advanced peek at his aging curve, as Donaldson's hard-hit metrics remained solid in 2022 while everything else that had to do with contact dropped off a cliff. He whiffed more. He hit 11 fewer homers in basically the same number of games with a more advantageous home stadium. He walked less (his walk % dipped under 10, from 13.6% the year prior). Even his average exit velocity, while still solid, dropped over 3 MPH year over year. He was, as uncouth fans say, "cooked."
But Cashman, saddled with his money either way, would rather just hope for the best instead of move on. Cash told Jon Heyman this week that Donaldson was robbed of a Gold Glove last season and will hopefully reverse the aging process next season. Hope, hope, hope.
Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson's 2022 season was "hopefully" an outlier
"“Hopefully, last year was just an anomaly.”"- Brian Cashman, on Josh Donaldson aging
Yeah, hopefully! Hey, hopefully IKF drills 25 homers and channels 1998 Chili Davis. Could be sick!
The safer bet is that Donaldson will occasionally run into one in 2023, but never gets back to the level of consistent slugging he previously displayed in Atlanta (or, hell, in 2021 in Minnesota). Cashman, unfortunately, doesn't get the opportunity to make a "safe" bet, instead having to throw his faith behind a wild swing, lest he admit a mistake.
The Yankees had a very good offseason at the upper tier, coming away with a new Captain and a left-handed ace to pair with Gerrit Cole. Unfortunately, they've also left themselves no wiggle room, a few holes and an infield logjam. The assumption is that the playoff left fielder is not currently on the roster -- and that's on purpose.
In the grand scheme of things, hoping Donaldson clicks isn't the worst long-shot bet this team has opted into. At the very least, this one has an expiration date: the end of 2023, when Donaldson's contract runs out.