The Bringer of Merry Weather

Revisiting the Josh Donaldson trade. No, the second one.

“Player to be named later,” is my favorite phrase in baseball. 

There is a sense of unknown and intrigue, optimism untarnished by bad AA stats or the poor injury history of an already named asset. Heck, David Ortiz and Shoeless Joe Jackson were PTBNL.

When the Toronto Blue Jays announced the PTBNL acquired from Cleveland to complete the 2018 Josh Donaldson trade, there was no such optimism. Responses to Toronto’s announcement of right-hander Julian Merryweather as the PTBNL ranged from “This is a joke. Omg you are the worst management!!!” to “The worst trade in Blue Jays history,” and a whole lot of “Who?” mixed in.

One fan tweeted “shameful display of asset management, don’t be proud of this.” While knowing what we know now a few days into 2021 that seems silly, that fan might not even be wrong. The rebuilding Blue Jays held on to Donaldson for too long, an injury-plagued 2018 tanked his value, and Toronto had to settle for a lottery ticket. The thing about the lottery is, as unlikely as it seems, people still win.


The Trade


Coming off back-to-back playoff appearances the Blue Jays posted 76 wins in 2017 and a rebuild was on the horizon. Edwin Encarnacion had already left, Donaldson and Jose Bautista were coming up on free agency, Troy Tulowitzki was in heavy decline, and there was no wave of youth coming. The Jays had to rebuild, and the fans, team, and management all knew it.

During the 2017-18 offseason, however, Toronto’s brass stuck in a holding pattern, discussed a Josh Donaldson trade that never came to fruition, and instead chose to supplant the withering core with bit pieces. They reportedly turned down a Donaldson deal centered around now-ace Jack Flaherty and brought in Randal Grichuk, Yangervis Solarte, and Aledmys Diaz to tread water for a season. 

There was some hope of rekindling the 2015/16 magic, but Toronto’s 2018 was rough, especially for Donaldson’s trade value. The team sputtered, Donaldson suffered shoulder and calf injuries that shelved him for all but 36 games, and at the deadline the Blue Jays were sellers. On August 31, 2018, Toronto sent recent MVP Donaldson to Cleveland for a PTBNL. Two months later, that player was named: Merryweather.

Despite sitting 12th on’s top Cleveland prospects list in 2017, Merryweather fell out of the top 30 the next year. He posted a 5.32 ERA across AA and AAA in ‘17 and missed all of 2018 with Tommy John surgery. At the time of the trade, some saw potential in the aging prospect, but the general consensus was that Toronto’s management had given Donaldson away for a broken and flawed arm — they might have been better off just qualifying Donaldson and taking the draft pick. A Toronto Star article recapping the trade concluded with the blunt truth, commiserating that “Merryweather was the Jays’ only return in the deal.”

After the late August trade, Donaldson rehabbed his injuries and appeared in 16 games for Cleveland in the regular season. Donaldson had posted a 148 OPS+ and hit 116 homers in his time in Toronto, and that Josh Donaldson appeared once again in Cleveland. He posted a .920 OPS in Cleveland, helped them to a 91-win division title, and played in all of their playoff games before they were swept by the Astros. Donaldson’s return to play and the playoffs only further spurned Jays fans, who directed their anger once again at management and the PTBNL.


The Trade Now


In 2018, Merryweather was seen as an injured, borderline future starter, with a 93-96 MPH fastball, high ground-ball rate, and ‘promising secondary pitches. Two weeks into 2021, he is touching 101, overpowering Anthony Rendon and Aaron Judge, and getting hyped as a potentially dominant power-closer. 

Merryweather’s first walk of 2021 came against Shohei Ohtani, leaving men on first and second and bring Mike Trout to the plate. With two outs, Merryweather started Trout with a bounced curveball. Pitching to the best low-ball hitter in baseball, Merryweather fought back into the count with a fouled-off low fastball (98 MPH) and slider (89). He lost his fourth pitch, another fastball, a few feet over the plate to even the count.

After striking out five of the first six batters he faced this year, Merryweather was struggling to find his control. It was his worst pitched at-bat of the season so far, but on the fifth pitch, he induced a hard lineout, topping the best player in the world and ending the inning.


The Julian Merryweather we have been introduced to in 2021 is the PTBNL fans dream of. The injury concerns are still there, but he has remained healthy. The fastball was always good and has ticked up a few MPH in relief. Those ‘promising secondary pitches’ developed into a perfectly located changeup and a solid slider too. All of the upside is being met, and any optimism justified.

We’re still single-digit games and four Merryweather innings pitched into 2021, so “Blue Jays won both Donaldson trades” hot takes are still a bit too spicy. But, at least from the fans calling for firings and posting “Who?” back in 2018, Toronto deserves some credit. And Merryweather deserves some credit too — rehabbing from Tommy John, working at Driveline to produce one of the largest fastball-changeup velocity differences in the major leagues, and embracing a role in the bullpen.

Baseball is weird — elite players get hurt, nothing prospects break out, Rick Ankiel wakes up one day and can’t throw a strike, and Julian Merryweather can go from a throw-in PTBNL to a 101 MPH Opening Day closer. Toronto shouldn’t be lauded for their asset management just because a trade panned out — they clearly didn’t maximize their return for the Bringer of Rain — but it looks like sunny days ahead for Merryweather and the Blue Jays.


Featured Image by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on IG)

Mitch Bannon

Mitch is a sports writer from Toronto who has covered college and professional football, basketball, hockey, and baseball. He is a defender of the oxford comma and card-carrying member of the J.A. Happ fan club.

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