Last offseason I wrote a never-to-be-published article about why the Chicago Cubs should steer clear of Josh Donaldson. Had he not signed a deal with the Atlanta National League club (if you’re new to my writing I don’t include racist team names as a rule) that article would have seen the light of day. Everyone could laugh at how incredibly wrong I was about Donaldson declining, not really filling a need on the team, etc. One year removed from my lunacy, I have no qualms telling you that the Minnesota Twins just made a huge improvement to their ballclub by signing Donaldson.
The actual money the Twins spent to snag Donaldson is of little importance. Donaldson got the years he wanted and the Twins managed to get Donaldson to budge from his reported asking price. That Donaldson got his four years means that the Twins will be paying him into his age 37 season, or longer if an option is exercised.
That also is of little importance in the story of Donaldson signing with the Twins. You and I both know that Donaldson will be worth every penny of that contract if he has even two decent seasons. The truth is Donaldson could fall off a cliff entirely and the Twins wouldn’t suffer any actual damage to their bottom line because they are owned by a billionaire in a league that makes billions of dollars every year.
The importance of the Donaldson contract comes in the form of .259/.379/.521, a DRC+ of 130, 15 defensive runs saved, 37 home runs, 33 doubles, and a bWAR of 5.1. Those numbers boiled down to their very core reveal one thing and one thing only, an elite baseball player who is now on the Twins roster. The Twins aren’t just getting a good hitter, they’re getting a slugger who can hit the ball over the fence or into the gap while also taking his walks and getting on base at an impressive clip. Third base at Target Field will now be occupied not by a grab-bag of decent to inadequate fielders but by one of the best defensive corner baggers in all of baseball.
Adding Donaldson to the roster improves the Twins beyond just the offensive and defensive production that he will bring to the team. Miguel Sanó can now take his heavy bat to first base where his defense should play better. He only has a small sampling of action at first, but a DRS of -2 is far more tolerable than his typical DRS of -5 at third. More than though, the Twins will be upgrading from Sanó’s -5 DRS in 2019 to Donaldson’s 15 DRS. Even if Donaldson regresses as a fielder, he won’t, it’s still a massive defensive upgrade while keeping Sanó’s important bat in the lineup consistently.
The Twins lineup is now an absolutely killer lineup but where this move will impact them the most is their newfound flexibility. Marwin González is still around to be his usual super-utility self. When he is up with the big league club Willians Astudillo can play just about anywhere on the diamond, or at least we all want to see him play every position. The flexibility of being able to improve the rotation is more realistic than it was without Donaldson.
Eddie Rosario is currently the starting left fielder, but there have been rumblings the Twins were willing to move Rosario before and the Donaldson signing strengthens the Twins’ ability to use Rosario to improve the rotation. Perhaps Rosario being in the final year of his deal weakens the ability to include him in a deal. However, that’s not to say the Twins won’t be able to find a trading partner who wants Rosario either to try and extend him or simply to fill a big role for however long might remain in the season at the time of the hypothetical deal.
The Twins were already a really good ballclub, probably the favorites in the American League Central. The question now becomes how much closer this move brings the Twins to competing with the other top teams in the AL. It brings them very close, close enough that if their rotation pans out or they do add another credible arm then 2020 may be the year the Twins finally get over their long Divisional Series wall.