The Yankees have only gotten five games out of Josh Donaldson this season, as he’s been hobbled by a hamstring strain for the remainder of the current campaign. Manager Aaron Boone said yesterday, however, that a minor league rehab stint for Donaldson is “imminent,” which would signal a return to the lineup in the near future (Twitter links via The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner). Whenever Donaldson is cleared to return, Boone added that expects the 37-year-old to be an everyday player.
Many Yankee fans will surely bristle at that notion. The former American League MVP has largely underwhelmed since coming to the Bronx alongside Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt in a trade that sent Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez to the Twins. Donaldson hit just .222/.308/.374 in 546 plate appearances last season, though he continued to rate well on the defensive side of the game, drawing +7 marks from both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average. In the five games Donaldson has played so far in 2023, he went 2-for-16 with a double, a walk and six strikeouts.
In Donaldson’s absence, DJ LeMahieu has drawn the bulk of the starts at third base. The 34-year-old LeMahieu is still a ways off his peak performance with the Yankees in 2019-20, but his .250/.320/.406 slash in 178 plate appearances this year is solid nonetheless. Of course, LeMahieu is plenty capable of playing first base and second base as well, and he also hits enough to factor in at designated hitter on days he’s not in the field. Even with Donaldson playing regularly at third base, Boone could still work LeMahieu into the lineup on a near-regular basis by rotating him through those four spots in the lineup.
While many Yankee fans have been ready to move on from Donaldson for the better part of a year, it’s understandable if the Yanks at least want to take a look at how he fares in his return from the injured list. He’s owed a $21MM salary this season and the $8MM buyout on next year’s $16MM option regardless, and as previously noted, last year’s defensive showing was strong. Donaldson also put the ball in play at an average of 90.7 mph last year and saw 43% of his batted balls leave the bat at 95-plus miles per hour.
At the same time, it’s fair to question just how long a leash Donaldson will be granted if he struggles out of the gate. The Yankees have won eight of their past ten games to boost their record to 30-20, but they’re still five games behind the division-leading Rays. They gave fellow veteran Aaron Hicks about a quarter of the season before designating him for assignment, though Hicks only tallied 76 plate appearances and appeared in 28 games during that time. Still, Hicks was signed through the 2025 season — albeit at a lower annual rate — whereas Donaldson is inked only through season’s end. The total financial commitment to both players is comparable.
Turning to another high-priced, injured veteran — Boone added that the organization’s hope is for Carlos Rodon to be able to throw off a mound at some point this week (Twitter link via Bryan Hoch of MLB.com). Rodon hasn’t thrown a pitch for the Yankees since signing his six-year deal over the winter, owing largely to a forearm strain but also to some back discomfort that popped up while he was rehabbing that initial injury.
Even if the 30-year-old Rodon is able to throw off a mound without issue, a return would still be a ways down the road. The lefty would likely need multiple bullpen sessions before then facing live hitters in a simulated setting and eventually making multiple minor league rehab appearances. It’s hard to envision him completing that cycle in anything less than a month.