The Best of Josh Donaldson: A Productive Big League Career

After 13 years in the big leagues, third baseman Josh Donaldson is calling it a career. Here's a look back at some of his top moments.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 14: Josh Donaldson #3 of the Milwaukee Brewers at bat during a game against the Miami Marlins at American Family Field on September 14, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

For some, the number 13 is considered unlucky. For third baseman Josh Donaldson, it’s a symbol of a productive major league career that comprised both a fast rise and a sharp decline.

After 13 years in the big leagues, Donaldson officially announced his retirement on The Mayor’s Office podcast with Sean Casey.

This news comes after speculation that he would return for a fourteenth campaign in 2024. But considering his woeful production last season in stints with the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers, the writing was likely on the wall for the former American League MVP.

Let’s take this opportunity to reflect on some of Donaldson’s top MLB moments.

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His First Big League Hit? A Home Run – May 1, 2010

The “Bringer of Rain” concluded his big league career with 279 career home runs, which averages out to roughly 22 per season. So, it’s especially fitting that Donaldson’s first major league hit back in 2010 was… a home run.

Donaldson only played in 14 games that season, though it’s ironic that his first home run came against the Blue Jays in Toronto, where he’d later reach his zenith.

The Beginning of Donaldson’s Ascent Towards Stardom – April 12, 2013

It wasn’t until 2013 that Josh Donaldson would earn regular playing time with the Oakland Athletics. But once he did, he took advantage, crushing 24 home runs in 158 games played.

That season, he compiled a 147 wRC+ and a 7.3 fWAR, the latter of which was the second-highest fWAR of his career. And it didn’t take long for Donaldson to showcase that value, as he belted his first ever walk-off home run in April 2013 against the Detroit Tigers.

Furthermore, the Bringer of Rain finished fourth in AL MVP voting that year, while also posting what would be his career-high in batting average (.301). Donaldson had finally arrived and he was here to stay.

First All-Star Appearance and Home Run Derby Participant – July 14-15, 2014

Donaldson would take his talents to Target Field in Minneapolis in July 2014 for the first of his three All-Star nods. There, he introduced himself to a national audience with his participation in the Home Run Derby.

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Then-teammate Yoenis Cespedes would go on to clinch his second consecutive Derby title, but Donaldson’s entrance onto the stage of the Midsummer Classic festivities would lock in his continual upward trajectory. In fact, he was voted as the starting third baseman for the AL in the 2014 All-Star Game, an honor he’d also receive in 2015.

For the season, Donaldson was worth 5.7 fWAR while clubbing 29 home runs in 158 games played (130 wRC+).

Traded to the Toronto Blue Jays – November 28, 2014

Coming off two stellar seasons in Oakland, no one believed Athletics’ GM Billy Beane would deal his budding superstar third baseman who was also under club control for several more seasons. That is, until he did.

In one of the worst trades the A’s ever made, Beane shipped Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package of four players (Brett Lawrie, Franklin Barreto, Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin).

Consequently, this deal proved to be a heist for the Blue Jays, who not only acquired the best player involved, but also one who was about to take his game to a whole new level. Donaldson’s Toronto years were his most prolific.

Winning the American League MVP Award – 2015

Donaldson reached his apex in 2015, producing one of the most dominant individual seasons of the decade in MLB.

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With 41 home runs, a 154 wRC+ and an 8.7 fWAR, he would become the second Blue Jays player ever to win AL MVP, joining George Bell in 1987. Donaldson also led the league in runs scored (122), RBIs (123) and total bases (352) as Toronto ended its 22-year postseason drought that year, advancing as far as the ALCS.

Playing alongside Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes and Russell Martin, Donaldson and the Blue Jays had one of baseball’s most feared lineups and it paid off handsomely for the third baseman in terms of his individual statistics.

In addition to securing MVP honors, Donaldson also took home the Hank Aaron Award, was selected as the starting third baseman for the AL in the All-Star Game for a second straight year and earned his first of two Silver Slugger Awards. 2015 was truly a banner year for the Bringer of Rain.

Postseason Hero – October 9, 2016

Greatness followed Donaldson into 2016, where he’d have another elite offensive season (37 home runs, 157 wRC+, 6.9 fWAR). The superstar was awarded his second consecutive Silver Slugger, third straight All-Star nod and even managed another top-five finish in MVP voting.

But his most memorable play from that season arguably happened in the playoffs.

Donaldson was the catalyst who punched Toronto’s ticket to the 2016 ALCS by doubling in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game Three of the ALDS, then scoring on a botched ground ball by the Texas Rangers’ Rougned Odor.

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The Blue Jays fell short of the World Series again in 2016, losing in the ALCS to the Cleveland Indians, but not because of their MVP third baseman.

One Last Hurrah – 2019

Injuries undermined Donaldson’s 2017 and 2018 campaigns, particularly the latter which saw him appear in just 52 games. Toronto traded him to Cleveland that summer, but he remained an ailing player, appearing in just 16 games for the Indians down the stretch.

With his value at its lowest point since his epic run with the Blue Jays, Donaldson’s career was at a crossroads heading into the 2019 season. He would bet on himself, inking a one-year “prove-it” deal with the Atlanta Braves to relocate that MVP form.

It’s safe to say that bet paid off, because Donaldson turned back the clock to his Toronto days for one last hurrah.

In his lone season with the Braves, Donaldson cranked 37 home runs and plated 96 runs while compiling a 131 wRC+ and a 5.2 fWAR, the best full-season totals he’d finish with for the duration of his career. 2019 was also the last year Donaldson would garner MVP votes, placing 11th in voting that season.

Following that bounce-back campaign, Donaldson failed to reach those heights of production again, as stints with the Twins, Yankees and Brewers to finish his career were underwhelming, at best.

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Closing Thoughts

Josh Donaldson was nothing if not dynamic. His career trajectory matched his personality: explosive, yet somewhat enigmatic.

In Donaldson’s prime between 2013 and 2017, only Mike Trout finished with more WAR. But at his worst, myriad injuries and random outbursts aimed at individuals like Billy Beane and Tim Anderson resulted in a shockingly rapid decline. The roller-coaster nature of his career is what makes his case compelling to reminisce about.

In total, Donaldson finishes his career with 46.2 fWAR and 1,310 hits in 5,856 plate appearances. That would certainly constitute a solid big-league tenure.