Josh Donaldson was everything Brett Lawrie wasn’t, a durable superstar capable of All-Star level play on offence and defence.
7 Years Since the Josh Donaldson Trade that Revitalized Baseball in Canada
By Joseph Agosti, Contributor
On November 28, 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays made a trade that would simultaneously revitalize the competitiveness of their team, but also energize a fanbase, dormant since the back-to-back World Series championships in 1992-93. On that day one of the greatest players to ever grace the Blue Jays uniform was traded from Oakland in exchange for a measly sum of spare parts which would only make the trade more lopsided in hindsight. Let’s travel back in time to 2014 to see just how impactful the trade would become for the Toronto Blue Jays and the popularity of baseball in Canada as a whole.
The 2014 season was a tough one for the Toronto Blue Jays, with a promising start withering as the season came to a close. Players expressed frustration with the lack of moves made by GM Alex Anthopoulos at the trade deadline. This was after a 2013 season when big moves made by Anthopoulos blew up in the team’s face; high-end acquisitions like R.A Dickey and Jose Reyes failing to propel a team fans hoped would be christened “Winners of the Offseason”. Later, frustrated by a mediocre 2014, Anthopoulos and Blue Jays fans were running out of patience. The core of the team led by Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were getting older at 34 and 31 years old (respectively) by the time the season started. Entering the final year of his contract, Anthopoulos knew both the team and his window of opportunity was closing, and with a few moves laid the foundation for one of the greatest trades in Blue Jays history.
Having already signed Russell Martin to a five-year 82 million dollar contract earlier in November of that year, the Blue Jays had one more pressing need to fill: third base. Since 2011, the third base was primarily manned by Canadian national Brett Lawrie. Lawrie had been a solid prospect with a few years of decent MLB production averaging 11 home runs per season as the Jays’ starting 3rd baseman. The problem with Lawrie was his inability to stay healthy having been limited by injuries every year as a Blue Jay. So, with fan impatience mounting, the time was right for an upgrade. So on November 28, 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays traded Brett Lawrie, Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman, and Franklin Barreto to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Josh Donaldson. Donaldson was everything Lawrie wasn’t, a durable superstar capable of All-Star level play on offence and defence; he brought valuable playoff experience to a team where its top stars, Bautista and Encarnacion, had never played Postseason baseball. Finally, it seemed the Blue Jays were on track for the playoffs.
However, the 2015 season did not start strongly, and going into the trade deadline it looked like the season was lost. But, at the trade deadline, the Blue Jays traded for All-Stars Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, who provided the spark the Blue Jays needed, going 43-18 after the trade deadline, learning from the inaction of 2014.
The Blue Jays would not go on to win the World Series in 2015, after coming from a 2-0 deficit to the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series (ALDS). The Jays lost out to the eventual champion Kansas City Royals, despite the best efforts by Donaldson and crew. Donaldson won the American League 2015 MVP with career-high numbers across the board, tallying 41 home runs, a .297 batting average and 123 runs batted in. The next season, 2016 would be another solid season for Donaldson and the Blue Jays, with both their team success and their fans’ energy carrying over from the 2015 season. Propelled by Donaldson’s 37 home runs the Blue Jays made it to the postseason again, beating both Baltimore and Texas (again), before losing to Cleveland in the ALCS ( also again).
2017 was where the cracks started to show in the Blue Jays, with Encarnacion leaving for Cleveland in free agency, and with an ageing Bautista on the decline, Donaldson had to shoulder more of the offensive load. Donaldson, now 31 years old, battled injuries all season and the Blue Jays slumped to a 76-86 record missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
If 2017 was the beginning of the end for Josh Donaldson in Toronto, the 2018 season was the crescendo. Never fully healthy, after dealing with calf and shoulder injuries all season, the declining Blue Jays traded Donaldson to Cleveland reuniting him with Edwin Encarnacion. , and just like that, 3.5 years later the Josh Donaldson era was over. So what is Josh Donaldson’s legacy in Toronto 7 years later? Well with 116 home runs as a Blue Jay he ranks 15th all time. He was only the second Blue Jay after George Bell to win an MVP award. Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion were authors of incredible playoff moments a generation of Canadians had never seen before (Donaldson Dash, Bautista Bat Flip, Edwins Wild Card Walkoff). Those 2015-16 runs revitalized a slumbering fanbase with routine 10,000 crowds becoming 50,000 screaming fans on a nightly basis, something that was lost for a few years after Donaldson was traded, which has only just started to come back in 2021.