Posted on January 14, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Minnesota Twins aren’t exactly synonymous with signing high-priced free agents. But the Twins pulled off a surprise on Tuesday night, agreeing to terms with third baseman Josh Donaldson. The deal will pay Donaldson $84 million over four years with either a $16 million option or a buyout of $8 million for the 2024 season. When it becomes official, the Twins will have landed one of the most impactful offensive players on the free-agent market this winter.
The last few years have been a bit of a whirlwind for the 35-year old Donaldson. Injuries limited him to just 52 games during the 2018 season right before he hit the open market. Without a lucrative long-term deal on the table, Donaldson took a one-year, $23 million deal from the Braves. With the pressure on, he proved that he’s still an elite offensive player. Donaldson hit .259 with an OPS of .900 in 2019, contributing 37 home runs and 33 doubles while also being one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball.
Compared to some of the other top-flight free agents on the market this winter, Donaldson was slow to sign. Anthony Rendon, who is considerably younger than Donaldson, received a 7-year, $245 million deal. While Donaldson didn’t come close to matching that, his deal is far more lucrative than most players his age have received in recent years.
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Donaldson ending up with the Twins is a little bit of a surprise. Reports indicated that he preferred to stay in Atlanta and would give the Braves a chance to match any offer from another team. On paper, the Braves are more in need of a third baseman than Minnesota after relying so much on Donaldson last season. But when the Twins couldn’t land a frontline starting pitcher, they turned their attention to upgrading their offense and were able to land Donaldson.
The addition of Donaldson’s bat will turn Minnesota’s biggest strength in 2019 into an even bigger strength. The Twins were one of the most powerful teams in baseball last season. They had eight players with at least 20 home runs and five players with over 30 home runs. All five players who hit at least 30 home runs for the Twins in 2019 will return to the Minnesota lineup in 2020 and Donaldson will provide an additional boost.
With Donaldson taking over at third base, the Twins will shift Miguel Sano to first base. Before signing Donaldson, Minnesota was likely to use a multi-player timeshare at first base highlighted by Marwin Gonzalez. However, Donaldson at third base and Sano at first base will improve Minnesota’s infield defense. It will also allow Gonzalez to be utilized in the kind of super-utility role where he’s excelled in recent years.
Of course, Donaldson comes with questions about his age and health, especially with the Twins committing to a four-year deal. Keep in mind he’s only two years removed from a season largely lost to injuries. For a small-market team like the Twins, that’s a big risk. However, if Donaldson can remain healthy, there’s no doubt he will make them better in 2020. Minnesota’s powerful lineup was enough to win the AL Central in 2019, and with Donaldson being added to that lineup, there’s a strong argument that the Twins will be favorites to win the division again in 2020.