Josh Donaldson, Bringer of Rain, MVP... Whatever you want to call him, he is good. Really good. With the inflation in baseball rising, and qualifying offers getting more and more expensive; down the line, an average player will be making a ton of money. So it is finally time to break their "short-term only" rules and lock someone up. There are many players on the 2014 Oakland A's that should be extended, but no one more important than Josh Donaldson right now.
Josh Donaldson has shown constancy for almost 3 seasons now. He is no fluke, he really is that good. Last year he hit .301/.384/.499 with 24 HR, good enough to net him 4th in AL MVP voting. This year, he is on pace to do even better. His current line stands at .276/.370/.529 with 13 HR. While his average is down a bit, he is on pace to hit over 30 HR. He is an excellent 3B, and all around great athlete. At age 28 he is in his prime, and will produce at this level for the next few years.
His rookie contract is finished after this season, and he is set to hit arbitration over the next 3 years. Brandon Moss hit his 1st year of arbitration this year, and got $4.1mm. Expect Donaldson to get the same or more in 2015. If Donaldson keeps his pace over the next year, then in 2016 expect him to make $8mm+ in arbitration, and then in 2017 he is looking at $10mm+ as well. The total the A's will shell out to him in his 3 arbitration years will probably be over $20mm+. Then after the 2017 season, he becomes a Free Agent, a couple months before his 32 birthday. With 5 seasons of 24+ HR, a few All-Star nods, maybe a couple Silver Sluggers or Gold Gloves, possibly even an MVP; he will no longer be affordable to the small market Oakland Athletics.
It is time to act now. Before he becomes an All-Star, or gets another Top 5 MVP vote. Before he has his first 30 HR season. The A's front office needs to negotiate and sign on the dotted line.
He should have an extension of 6-7 years, with at least one more option year after that. This covers him through his 3 arbitration years, and 3-4 more Free Agency years. The contract ends when he is age 35-36, and the options can take into effect if he is still performing at a high level.
The magic number for infielders seems to be age 35 before they start declining. We saw this with another 3B, Scott Rolen, and we may begin to witness this now with Adrian Beltre and Aramis Ramirez. Of course there are 3B like Jeff Kent who seemed to be invincible. You never know what you're going to get, but ending the "main" part of the contract at age 35 or 36 seems to be the safe bet.
As for financials, we can take a look at Matt Carpenter, who just got extended for 6yr/52mm. No, Carpenter doesn't hit 30 HR, but he hits consistently above .290, and had 55 doubles, and scored 126 runs in 2013. Last year he was 27 years old, an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and got 4th in NL MVP voting. Sound familiar? The Cardinals were smart to lock him in over this past off-season, instead of waiting for him to show even more consistency.
Of course Donaldson will probably demand more, as he should. The deal Carpenter signed was extremely team friendly, and agents value HR. I still think, that if we act now we can get him in the $9mm-$11mm/year range. We would be paying much more over the next 2 years, than we would if we took him year by year in arbitration. But, come his final year of arbitration, and his free agency years, we would be getting a very good deal. So I suggest a 6yr/$66mm offer, with a 7th and 8th year option for $12mm each, and a $1mm buy out.
If the A's fail to sign him now and let him go to Free Agency, he will be demanding much much more. The A's will be in the same situation as when they went after Beltre. Beltre just finished his age 31 season, just like Donaldson will after his 3 years of arb. Beltre also hit 25-26 HR and batted .265+ over the 3 seasons prior to 2011. The A's tried their hardest to land Beltre, but ultimately he took 5yr/$80mm ($16mm/yr) with a 6th year option. This is money the A's did not have. If Donaldson keeps putting up numbers like he's doing over the next 3 years, expect him to easily surpass that when it's time for his agent to negotiate in free agency. Especially in year 2018, when all salaries are that much higher.
So I conclude with a simple request to the A's Front Office: The time is now, more than ever. Donaldson has shown his elite status time and time again. He has yet to win any awards or be selected to an All-Star game, but those things will come soon enough, inevitably. As he shows more and more consistency, his agent will add on more and more to his price tag. As a small market team, we need to act fast, and carefully spend our money. This will be a wise way to spend. It is time to extend Josh Donaldson.