The Twins’ lack of activity this offseason created plenty of questions about how much would be done to improve a franchise that won 101 games and the AL Central title in 2019 but was then swept out of the American League Division Series by the New York Yankees.
The Twins’ success and their core of young talent — mixed with veteran leader Nelson Cruz — seemed to indicate the brass of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine didn’t have much interest in immediately improving the product. After making a significant offer to free agent righthander Zack Wheeler but losing out to Philadelphia, the Twins watched free agent pitchers Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-jin Riu and Dallas Keuchel land elsewhere.
They answered by signing free agent pitchers Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Considering Bailey is a question mark and Hill won’t be able to pitch until at least June after having surgery, these moves were rightfully met with little enthusiasm.
In recent weeks the only reports involving the Twins centered around third baseman Josh Donaldson and the fact Minnesota was competing with Atlanta, Washington and the Dodgers for his services. Eventually it became worthy of an eye roll when the Twins were mentioned in relation to Donaldson and the fact he was now seeking $110 million over four years.
By late Tuesday afternoon one Twin Cities sports media personality who works for SKOR North pleaded for this nonsense to end. On Tuesday evening, it did come to an end but not in the way the TCMP expected.
The 34-year-old Donaldson had agreed to a reported four-year, $84 million deal with the Twins that includes a $16 million club option and an $8 million buyout in the fifth season. Donaldson will be guaranteed at least $92 million and there’s a chance the contract hit $104 million if Donaldson hits escalators on the option, according to ESPN.
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) January 15, 2020
A Twins team that hit a major league record 307 home runs last season couldn’t find the pitching it was pursuing but it did improve a lineup that already was incredibly dangerous. Donaldson not only makes the Twins much better at third base and on the left side of the infield, he also brings 219 career home runs and 645 RBIs that he accumulated in 1,038 games over nine seasons with Oakland, Toronto, Cleveland and Atlanta.
The assumption for weeks had been that Donaldson was using the Twins, and maybe a few other teams, as leverage to return to the Braves. After an injury plagued 2018, Donaldson signed a one-year, $23 million contract with Atlanta last year and hit .259/.379/.521 with 37 homers and 94 RBIs in 155 games.
That production drove up Donaldson’s value to the point where it seemed like a long shot he would ever call Target Field home. The story that the Twins were in on guys like Wheeler, Bumgarner, Riu and then Donaldson also made it difficult to buy that any of their offers would be accepted. But the Twins got the last laugh when it came to Donaldson and any claims that the Pohlads are cheap, or like nothing more than vetoing deals, can be put to rest.
The Twins can now move Miguel Sano and his powerful bat across the diamond to first base. Sano and Donaldson combined for 71 home runs and 173 RBIs last season. C.J. Cron, who played first base for the Twins much of last season and has now signed with Detroit, had 25 homers and 78 RBIs with Minnesota.
While the 39-year-old Cruz and manager Rocco Baldelli did their best to keep things loose around the Twins last season, Donaldson is known for being wound tight. It will be interesting to see how he mixes in the clubhouse but his competitive nature, good glove and big bat will be welcomed.
He has played as many as 158 games three times in his career and last season played in 155 for the second time in his career. Donaldson is now signed through his age 37 season and 38 if the option on his contract is picked up. The Twins are gambling he will remain healthy but it’s a gamble worth taking.
Falvey and Levine’s work is not over. The Donaldson move — one that comes without having to give up any of their prized young talent — shows that the brass feels this team can not only make it back to the playoffs but maybe can win a series this time.
The AL Central likely won’t be as easy to win as it was last season. Cleveland still has some outstanding young pitching and has yet to trade All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor. The Chicago White Sox have spent big bucks this offseason and clearly feel they can make a run at the division. The Twins shouldn’t be done yet. They still need a top-liner starter to go with Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi and Bailey isn’t that guy.
Nonetheless, the Twins made an impressive move Tuesday night by winning the Donaldson Sweepstakes and shutting down talk about an offseason of inactivity. Spring training is a month away and there is now reason for real excitement.