NEW YORK – Reporters called Josh Donaldson at 11:15 a.m. ET inside the Yankees club to discuss getting out of the lineup for the third straight game. If Donaldson is in his locker during the hour when the media are allowed into the club, he is usually friendly and will rarely refuse an interview. But Sunday morning was different.
After arriving on the field, Donaldson dressed, grabbed a bat, and headed to the office of Yankees manager Aaron Boone after refusing to comment to a group of reporters.
No. Donaldson said before walking across the clubhouse.
Boone was supposed to speak with reporters regarding his usual pre-game availability at 11:30 a.m., but didn’t speak until 12 p.m. It is rare for Bonn to be even five minutes late for a pre-match press conference. He even joked that he usually runs into reporters who may walk a few seconds late.
“JD and I were talking,” Boone said of why he was late. “It spilled over into a long conversation. That’s all.”
After Sunday’s win over the Rangers, Donaldson said the meeting “was about a lot of baseball.” He added, “I don’t think it’s as serious as what you guys are trying to make out. We’re having a conversation. He just happened to overstay his meeting (with the media), which I had no idea about.”
Boone said he and Donaldson had had some conversations over the past two days and said they were “on the same page.” Boone declined to go into specifics of what the nearly hour-long conversation entailed, but it appears Donaldson’s role going forward doesn’t align with what general manager Brian Cashman said just last week.
Cashman told reporters that he wanted Donaldson to get “consistent at bat”. Sitting for three straight games does not mean getting a stable racket. But Bunn remains adamant that Donaldson will “play a lot” going forward. What “playing a lot” actually means remains in question.
“He will,” Boone told Donaldson as he got consistent playing time. “This is just a stretch where I felt like I wanted to give him a few days to kind of work. That was just kind of my decision about it with this little stretch, but I expect him to be consistent on the beats.”
Third base production has been a disaster for the Yankees this season. Going into Sunday, the Yankees are 27th with 68 wRC+ at third base. Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu have not produced productive levels this season. Boone said both LeMahieu and Donaldson will get ample playing time moving forward. Prior to Donaldson’s return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for nearly the entire season, Bunn told reporters in May that he envisioned the veteran as an “everyday” player. A month later, Donaldson was out of the lineup for three straight days.
“I think he has to be an everyday player,” said Boone. “This is such a soft reset that I decided, for a moment in time, that I felt two days were worth it.
“We’ve got a number of players that there’s going to be a guy who’s kind of a puzzler, but, like I said, he’s going to play a lot.”
Since returning from the injured list on June 2, Donaldson has struggled. He is 6-for-48 (. 125 batting average) with an OPS of 0.641. On numerous occasions since last season, the Yankees have lamented Donaldson’s lack of production since being traded for him. Boone told reporters at spring training in March,I think you’re crazy to think that going backwards isn’t there offensively. This is a guy who still has the speed of the bat and he’s very talented and I think physically he’s in a much better place than he was a year ago.”
The truth is, Donaldson wasn’t the player the Yankees thought they’d get from Minnesota, hitting 26 home runs and a career-high . 827 in 2021. Since joining the Yankees last season, Donaldson has hit .210/.295/.378 with 21 home runs. home runs in 617 total plate appearances. This year, Donaldson has posted 59 wRC+ in 21 games, which means he’s 41 percent worse than the average MLB hitter.
“A little bit of it is a little sampling of the season,” Boone said. “If you really sit there and watch everyone at bat, I feel, in a lot of ways, he’s better skilled than he was at various points where he scrimmaged a little bit last year. Like he gets his swing a lot. The effect is there. He hit a lot of power balls.” Right on people, and when you go through it and don’t get a lot of hits, that adds in. Then you take into account a few days where he may not have been swinging great after a number of games where he may not have gotten a hit when you have a good couple at bat. It adds up and becomes the best season.”
Asked if he was upset about being benched for three games, Donaldson said: “Obviously I want to play but that’s not why we’re talking. At the end of the day I’m happy our team won and yet I can help this team win ball games and contribute whatever.” Possible way is what I’m here for.”
Advanced metrics show Donaldson’s keg rate is 12.4 percentage points higher than last season. And his average exit speed is slightly better. Fundamental metrics could indicate there was still some life in Donaldson’s racket, but the results weren’t there.
If Donaldson continues to wrangle, hiring him for the assignment will likely become a consideration. He still owes about $10.5 million of his $21 million salary for the year. He also has a $6 million buyout for next season and will almost certainly not return to the Yankees if he lasts the rest of the year on the roster.
“I would like to get him some runway here where he gets steady hits and then he can roll and be in a better position to judge,” Cashman said last week.
This runway may run out soon.
(Photo: Wendell Cruz/USA Today)
“Total coffee junkie. Tv ninja. Unapologetic problem solver. Beer expert.”