TAMPA — Josh Donaldson is here, which means he feels like he can still mash like he did before 2022, and that season was either an offensive disaster or an aberration for him depending on one’s perspective. If the former MVP thought he was done as a contributing offensive force, he would have walked away, he said. Just left the game behind. Stayed in Alabama with his family and called it a fine career. Just like that.
“If I felt like I didn’t have anything left to offer the game, I wouldn’t have reported to camp,” Donaldson told The Post. “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.”
Donaldson posted well above average bordering on great hitting numbers his entire career — until he came to The Bronx. His 94 OPS-plus his first season in pinstripes isn’t anything like his 134 OPS-plus heading into last year, or even the 127 OPS-plus he posted in 2021, his last year in Minnesota before the big trade that looks better for the Twins mostly because they unloaded Donaldson’s money.
The numbers tell you he was only a slightly below average offensive player last year, and while he was outstanding defensively — he should have received a Gold Glove nomination, at least — but he can’t accept below average, or even average. He makes clear he’d give it up if he’s convinced he can’t get it back.
“I would retire, just for the fact that I’ve had a certain quality of production I’m used to,” Donaldson said. “I don’t want to just play to play. I want to play to win. And I want to play to help our team win. And I want to be a contributing force to that.”
Josh Donaldson isn’t leaving just yet. If Yankees bosses are disappointed they didn’t get to save the $27 million he’s still owed for the 2023 season, they wouldn’t say. Their public message is that they believe in him. That they see him getting his offensive game back.
They say he’s the third baseman. Donaldson, a realist, said he isn’t taking anything for granted. He looks around and sees a plethora of quality infielders and understands he isn’t the only option. Two-time batting champion DJ LeMahieu is here as a high-priced super utilityman, and the team’s two prospects — Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza — are infielders, too. The Yankees look short on outfielders and particularly pitchers, but they are stacked in the infield.
The Yankees gauged the trade value of infielders Donaldson, Gleyber Torres and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and it obviously wasn’t enough. The way things went at bat last year with Donaldson hitting a full-season career-low 15 home runs and a career-low .222, presumably they’d have to pay Donaldson’s deal way down to trade him.
They also know his strong history, and they’d rather give him another chance. They see his season as an aberration from his previous near Hall of Fame career norm, not the beginning of a downward spiral for the 37-year-old who’s played the game forever, and put his body through the ringer via hard-nosed play and decade plus of wear and tear.
He has a year left on his deal, but it’s not about that. It’s about getting back what he was.
“I’m not trying to walk away right now,” Donaldson said. “I hold myself to a high standard. I don’t need to play the game for financial reasons anymore.
“I play the game because I love to compete and I love the camaraderie. I feel like I have something to offer this game. And I have some incentive to bounce back after last year. I feel like I have something to prove to myself. And I feel like I can.”
Donaldson knows he has something to prove to New Yorkers, too. He heard boos last year, especially in October, when he and most of the rest of the lineup struggled before falling, again, to the Astros, the eventual World Series winner.
Donaldson isn’t making alibis. He’s not citing the shortened 2022 spring, any aches or pains, or even the adjustment to New York. Donaldson has been around the block and the league and performed big in big cities before.
“I’m not going to look to make excuses for my play last year,” Donaldson said. “I just didn’t get on a roll. I didn’t really even have a stretch where I was dialed in for an extended period of time. I’d have like two, three days where I felt good. And I’d have a week where I felt terrible at the plate. I’m looking to be more consistent, have better at-bats with whatever’s thrown my way.”
Donaldson said he put in the work this winter, and he continues to put in the work. He said he feels better overall, but still isn’t quite himself in the box. He’s had some at-bats he’s liked. Others he didn’t. He’s off slow (3 for 15) but he’ll get there, he thinks.
“I feel my work going into games is better right now. But in games it’s still inconsistent,” Donaldson said. “It’s a process.”
He’s sure he will be better. But if he isn’t, by next spring he’ll be gone from the game.