The New York Yankees did the unthinkable (for them) over the weekend when they DFA'd Aaron Hicks with just under three years remaining on his seven-year deal.
Could they follow up that move by doing ... the thinkable and eating Josh Donaldson's 2023 money, too?
Aaron Boone said all the right things this spring when asked about Donaldson's ability to bounce back, gassing up his player in the public sphere while the Yankees' third baseman worked on shortening his leg kick and trying to match his offense to his defense.
Unfortunately, there's been an extended gap that's hindered our ability to find out if the tweaks worked; Donaldson went 2-for-16 with a homer before pulling up lame running to first on a routine fly out. The rehab was supposed to be swift. Instead, after one grueling Double-A game where he clearly still couldn't run, Donaldson's injury severity was upgraded and he was placed back on the shelf. Add in a bizarre household accident, and it seems he's more Jacoby Ellsbury than DJ LeMahieu these days. Donaldson is reportedly approaching a return. His (second) rehab assignment could begin as soon as Thursday. When he returns (if?), Boone assures us he'll be an everyday player. He "thinks".
But ... considering there's no chance Donaldson plays a role on this team beyond 2023, would the Yankees follow up their Hicks shocker by opting out of integrating the 37-year-old third baseman into their crowded infield picture? Chris Kirschner of The Athletic believes there's at least a chance.
Josh Donaldson Contract: Yankees could eat more money to remove third baseman from roster
Unlike their commitment to Hicks, Donaldson's money will expire at the end of the year. If they opt instead to keep him on the roster, he'll leave without a trace when the season concludes, anyway.
That said ... he's essentially been a sunk cost since early April. Following the hamstring issue that set his silent season in motion, the Yankees have been paying him not to play. Would Steinbrenner rather continue to do so for the duration of the season, or try one more time to get something out of the contract while losing an asset (Willie Calhoun? Greg Allen?) in the process?
As it stands, the Yankees will somehow have to lop two players off this roster in order to get both Giancarlo Stanton and Donaldson activated. The second of those two decisions is coming sooner than anticipated.
The easy Oswald Peraza demotion has already taken place. Instead of standing pat, the Yankees added another complicating factor this weekend by trading for the speedy Allen, resulting in the longest-tenured Yankee being given his walking papers.
Did the Yankees add Allen just to let him go a month from now? Probably not. Do they view both Calhoun and Bauers as pieces moving forward? Bauers has struggled, as of late, but he's also been placed in the leadoff spot several times recently, and the Yankees think he's made tangible swing changes that raise his ceiling (remember the opposite field homer into the bullpen?). Calhoun often hits fifth when he starts. Both men bat from the left side of the plate.
Bringing Donaldson back creates more issues than letting him go. The Yankees were willing to blindside Hicks with several years remaining on his deal, but at least seem prepared to give Donaldson another chance, even though he won't last more than a few months here either way.
Like it or not, Donaldson is coming back before June. Don't be stunned, though, if the Yankees lose an asset to make room for him, then cut him loose anyway if he can't find his footing this summer.