The Yankees are going to have a big decision to make when Josh Donaldson returns from injury. On the one hand, it’s essential for the team to have good depth and stay healthy early on in the year. On the other hand, putting JD in the lineup at this moment isn’t the best decision for them to win games. Donaldson is no longer the player he once was, and despite his hefty contract, he shouldn’t be taking reps over a few other guys that can man the hot corner. Additionally, when Bader returns, it complicates things even further.
JD has had a rough time during his tenure with the Yankees and, with a bat specifically, has been dreadful at the dish. He injured his hamstring a week ago and hasn’t played since, but when he was in the lineup this season, he was struggling even more than last year. Donaldson made some changes to his approach at the plate during spring training, even going so far as to switch up his stance entirely.
Spring changes haven’t translated thus far for Josh Donaldson:
It worked for him in the spring, and it seemed that he may have potentially turned a corner and revitalized a bit of that offensive prowess that was so prevalent when he was one of the league’s best hitters. However, we’ve now seen that not all success in spring training translates to meaningful baseball games. He’s struggled immensely this season, albeit a small sample to gauge.
Over the 17 PAs he put together before going down on the IL, he has posted a 28 wRC+ and has hit one homer. He has a .489 OPS, is still looking lost at the plate, and has accumulated a -0.1 fWAR in the early days of the season. I’m not going to let the 17 PAs justify him being released or cut, but it does tell me that he’s likely not going to get better anytime soon.
Last season, he posted career-worsts across the board offensively. He OPS’d .682 with a 97 wRC+ over 546 PAs. His bat speed was way down, he was watching pitches down the middle, and he couldn’t hit sliders for the life of him. This year, it’s more of the same. Donaldson’s still got a fantastic glove, but it doesn’t make sense to bench someone like DJ or Oswaldo Cabrera just so they can fit him in the lineup.
The Yankees can use Cabrera or DJ over Donaldson:
He’s not the same player he was, and when Bader returns from his injury in the coming weeks, it’ll be even more difficult for him to get regular ABs. The one thing going for Donaldson is that the other guys on the bench alongside him aren’t lighting the world on fire, either. IKF has a -54 wRC+ with 19 PAs to his name, and Aaron Hicks is sporting a -2 over 20 PAs. The Yankees are going to have to make a big decision regarding who won’t be on this team.
The roster construction wouldn’t make sense for them to have numerous below-average bench guys, even if they’re all making decent money to be bad. Donaldson specifically is making $29 million to be a well-below-average player, and the Yankees should absolutely elect to give DJ and Oswaldo more reps over him. Oswaldo Cabrera has been the super-utility star we knew he was, and DJ is a massive part of this team’s success.
The Yanks have some decisions to make, and it’ll be interesting to see what route they decide to take with their bench. Donaldson shouldn’t see everyday reps, though they may want to get him in the lineup and see if he can work out of his funk. When he returns, I look forward to seeing how the Yankees decide to play this situation.