All spring long, we’ve heard how the Yankees think third baseman Josh Donaldson can bounce back in 2023.
Even Donaldson himself thinks so, telling The Post’s Jon Heyman he wouldn’t be playing if he didn’t feel he could return to form.
“If I felt like I didn’t have anything left to offer the game, I wouldn’t have reported to camp,” Donaldson told the paper. “I feel like I have [something] in the tank or I wouldn’t show up. Obviously, I feel like I do. That’s why I’m here. And I’m going to give it everything I have.”
Early returns aren’t promising. Donaldson is batting just .200 in seven spring training games. He has no extra-base hits and is struggling to simply lift the ball in the air. This after he hit a career-worst .222 with 15 home runs and a subpar 97 wRC+ in 2022.
The easy answer is to bench him, but even that seems unlikely. Donaldson is owed $27 million this year. Knowing the Yankees, he will get several chances to right the ship. It also helps that he had a +7 defensive runs saved (DRS) at third base last year and shockingly wasn’t a Gold Glove nominee.
But what happens when Donaldson continues to struggle? And what about when the quality of his at-bats get worse and worse? His hard-hit rate dipped almost seven full points to 33.3% and meant a sharp increase in balls he hit up the middle. He hit .219 against fastballs last year and was even worse against most breaking pitches.
We’ve seen this story play out before, most recently with Joey Gallo last season. Eventually, Donaldson won’t be in the everyday lineup and playing time could prove scarce. He knows he’s on the hot seat and that the Yankees have a plethora of infielders who can play third, from DJ LeMahieu to Oswaldo Cabrera to even Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
And much like Gallo, the story probably ends with Donaldson getting traded at the deadline for minor league depth. Except this time around, the Yankees might be covering most if not all of his remaining salary. We’ve said it before: Neither the Yankees nor Twins won this trade.
At the end of the day, Donaldson knows he’s on the hot seat. The whole “what if” above could prove moot because he told the Post he’d retire if he can’t perform at a high level. In which case, he and the Yankees part as friends and gentlemen and most of his $27 million salary is saved. It certainly beats regularly trotting him out to hit .159 in 82 games before trading him for almost nothing.
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