While the Cardinals’ offense has been rather productive during the second half, it’s lacked a proven middle-of-the-lineup presence, with 12-year minor-leaguer Tommy Pham acting as the team’s most productive hitter. They’ve particularly lacked a consistent power threat; they have five players with at least 20 home runs, but none with more than 25 this season.
Even though he missed roughly six weeks near the beginning of the season with a calf injury, Donaldson has been a prolific power hitter and has more home runs (33) than any Cardinals player this year. The 31-year-old has had another fantastic season at the plate, hitting .272/.388/.563 in 492 plate appearances. He’s also played solid defense at third base, recording three defensive runs saved at the position.
Donaldson is heading into his final arbitration year before hitting free agency following the 2018 season. While that would seem to reduce his value a bit, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported shortly before the trade deadline that the Blue Jays plan to compete in 2018, and trading their best player wouldn’t really align with that goal unless they’re able to get a tremendous return package.
The Cardinals’ options at third base heading into 2018 currently include Jedd Gyorko, who hit .272/.341/.472 with 20 homers before being slowed by a late-season hamstring injury; Matt Carpenter, who provided a steady presence as the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter and spent most of the season at first base before moving back to third as Jose Martinez took over at first; 2016 All-Star Aledmys Diaz, who struggled at the plate and spent most of the second half in Triple-A as Paul DeJong supplanted him at shortstop, and prospect Patrick Wisdom, who hit 31 homers this year at Triple-A Memphis.
If the Cardinals end up making an offer for Donaldson, they could attempt to deal from their surplus of major-league position players or from their talented farm system, which features five of baseball’s top 100 prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline.