While most Cubs fans are focused on Bryce Harper or the Cardinals or Brewers, the Atlanta Braves just put the baseball world on notice.
The Braves inked former AL MVP Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Brian McCann to a pair of one-year deals Monday afternoon, totaling $25 million (Donaldson will make $23 million).
McCann may be 35 by next year and Donaldson will be 33 and coming off a season in which he played only 52 games due to injury, but they will provide valuable veteran leadership and approach to a Braves team with one of the youngest rosters in the game, headlined by two exciting young stars in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies (who will be 21 and 22 on Opening Day, respectively).
The Braves already won 90 games last season before losing to the Dodgers in the NLDS and the only main pieces they're losing to free agency are Nick Markakis and catcher Kurt Suzuki (who has already signed with the Nationals). They can now slot Donaldson in behind Acuna, Albies and superstar Freddie Freeman (.946 OPS the last three seasons) atop the batting order.
Donaldson could've been a great fit on the Cubs, though they were not linked as a major player for him prior to the one-year deal with the Braves. For a team with financial constraints that may take them out of the market for the top hitters like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Donaldson could've been a real nice "Plan B" of sorts (though obviously not for $23 million/year), something our David Kaplan was all about.
The former Cubs farmhand (he was traded to Oakland for Rich Harden in 2008) has only played 165 games the last two seasons, but hit 41 homers with 101 RBI, 95 runs and a .900 OPS in that time while also rating as a positive defender at third base. During his heyday with the A's and Blue Jays (2013-16), Donaldson posted an .893 OPS while averaging 33 homers and 103 RBI and finished no lower than 8th in the AL MVP voting — taking home the accolade in 2015.
With his injury woes, Donaldson undoubtedly would not have received $23 million per season for multiple years, but this was a nice boom-or-bust gamble for him as he bet on himself in a big way. For the Braves, it's a low-risk, high-reward move that could pay off in a huge way. And if it doesn't or Donaldson gets hurt again, they don't lose anything beyond 2019.
As for McCann, the Cubs are in the market for a veteran backup catcher to give Willson Contreras some rest and the 34-year-old would've made a lot of sense. His production fell off with Houston in 2018 as he failed to hit at least 18 homers in a season for the first time since his rookie year of 2005. Known as a valuable defender with some pop, McCann still has plenty to offer a contender and for $2 million, the risk is essentially nonexistent.
But he clearly wanted to return to Atlanta — where he spent the first 9 years of his career — and will now pair with former White Sox backstop Tyler Flowers to help lead a young pitching staff.
Also, there's this:
Brian McCann will have played with Julio Franco (Born in 1958) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (Born in 1997)— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) November 26, 2018
The Cubs play the Braves real early in 2019 - the second series of the year from April 1-4 in Atlanta - and then will host Donaldson and Co. from June 24-27 at Wrigley Field.