As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the Diamondbacks recently signed Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas. That was big news. Then the Athletics traded All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays. That was arguably bigger news, and surely more surprising news. Early in the offseason, the A’s had stated that Donaldson wouldn’t be moved; and then he got moved. The Jays had a relative need at third base depending on what you think of Brett Lawrie and, apparently, Toronto didn’t think a lot of him. So Lawrie was shipped to the A’s, along with three prospects, for Donaldson. But the Diamondbacks aren’t solid at third and I got to wondering, could the Diamondbacks have made this trade?

Arizona certainly needs impact players, this much has been established. Donaldson is an impact player as he’s produced at a level similar to that of Paul Goldschmidt for the last two seasons. Two Goldies are certainly better than one, and Donaldson clearly could’ve been had. Of course, Jake Lamb, and maybe Yasmany Tomas, are destined for third next season, so the D-backs aren’t without options, but those options are unknown quantities for a team that appears to want to win now (why else sign Tomas?). Donaldson is a known quantity and he can surely help a team that’s trying to win at the present. In short, the Diamondbacks wouldn’t have had a problem filling third base with Josh Donaldson.

The haul that the Oakland got in return from Toronto turned some heads in that it was devoid of impact major leaguers or can’t miss prospects. The Jays didn’t ship their top prospect to the A’s. Hell, they didn’t send a single top three prospect in return for Donaldson. Instead they moved a package consisting of the up and down Lawrie, Sean Nolin, Franklin Barreto and Kendall Graveman. Let’s quickly evaluate those pieces:

  • Brett Lawrie is a major leaguer who had a monster breakout in 2011, then put together three injury-riddled, mediocre campaigns. Can he stay healthy? Can he get the power back? He’s full of questions and contains few answers, but he can fill Donaldson’s void (on the diamond) provided he’s physically able.
  • Sean Nolin is a B level prospect who’s slotted as a back end starter, maybe a reliever. He spent almost all of 2014 in AAA after he got a very short MLB debut in 2013. He’s fringy as a starter but has a chance to make it in the back-end of a big league rotation.
  • Franklin Barreto is the most intriguing player moved as a shortstop with a good bat. He’s a B+ prospect who’s still a couple years away from the majors but has a chance to both stick at short and hit for average with some power. Hitting shortstops are always in demand and Barreto is the key piece in this deal.
  • Kendall Graveman is the least inspiring player traded. He’s not a top 20 prospect in the system, so let’s call him a C-level guy who may make a big league living as either a reliever or spot starter.

To recap, we have a big leaguer with an uncertain future who can fill the A’s current hole at third. We have a B+ prospect at a key position, a B-level guy who may be a back end starter in the next year or so and a throw-in with a chance to pitch out of the bullpen relatively soon. Could the Diamondbacks have made that deal?

You bet they could have.

Aside from third, the A’s also have a gaping hole at shortstop. The Diamondbacks have a surplus of shortstops. Oakland is great at maximizing platoons on cheap players to create value. Arizona has a cheap shortstop with upside who’s perfect for being platooned. Enter: Didi Gregorius. He’s an immediate starter for Oakland and can be platooned if they wish, plus he plays the level of defense that a team like the A’s covet. Is Gregorius equivalent to Lawrie? Probably not quite, so the value has to be made up in terms of prospects.

Fortunately, the D-backs could easily sweeten the deal by upping the prospects heading back to Oakland. Aaron Blair appears a big part of the Diamondbacks’ future, but he could be dealt without excuse for a player like Josh Donaldson, a legit MVP candidate. Blair is a upgrade over Nolin, so taking into account the drop between Lawrie and Gregorius, let’s call it essentially even at this point.

Donaldson is a third baseman and the D-backs have a couple good young ones who would be displaced by this deal. Franklin Barreto is no slouch, but neither is Brandon Drury and those two are nearly interchangeable. The fact that Drury is closer to the majors would have to be enticing for Oakland as he’s less of risk than Barreto, plus he just wouldn’t be a big factor for Arizona any longer once Donaldson was acquired. D-backs fans would probably rather deal Jake Lamb instead, and maybe Oakland would listen, but Drury’s stock is clearly higher and if the goal is to get Donaldson, Arizona would have to put together a strong offer.

The Diamondbacks have a bunch of right-handed relief help that could easily replace Graveman in the deal, so they could offer Kaleb Fleck, Kevin Munson or Enrique Burgos. If they wanted to hold onto Drury and try to make the deal around Lamb instead, they could offer Jake Barrett or Jimmie Sherfy, perhaps using a better reliever to make up the gap in a third base prospect.

So let’s recap. The Diamondbacks, in this scenario trade Didi Gregorius, Aaron Blair, Brandon Drury/Jake Lamb and an okay relief prospect/good relief prospect for Josh Donaldson. It’s a good package, not a great one, and it’s feasible. Remember, the Blue Jays only sent a good-ish package to Oakland in the first place, one that’s replicable for Arizona.

The last piece of information to consider here is that Josh Donaldson is under team control for four (FOUR!) more seasons. He’s arbitration eligible this winter and is projected to earn $4.5 million for 2015 (that fits the current budget crunch nicely). The D-backs could afford this. He’ll make three more passes through arbitration after next season and, over the course of the next four years, make somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 to $40 million, roughly speaking. That’s an AAV around $9 or $10 million, or essentially what the D-backs are paying Cody Ross next year, if you’d like to look at it that way. That’s a hell of a bargain for a 5+ win player and would rival the value that the D-backs have in Paul Goldschmidt. The surplus value opportunity is huge, resulting in somewhere in the neighborhood $85-$100 million in free production.

So I leave it to you, the reader. In an alternate universe (that actually kinda exists), should the Diamondbacks have traded for Josh Donaldson? They have the pieces to match what the Blue Jays dealt away and the surplus value opportunity is massive, but they’d have to part with pieces that we’ve traditionally viewed as part of the Diamondbacks’ future. What say you?

Should the Diamondbacks' have traded for Josh Donaldson?

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