Remember when the Minnesota Twins won the AL Central division in 2019 in convincing fashion? They are more than ready to take the next step, especially after their latest move.
The Twins are reported to have agreed to a four-year, $92-million deal with free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 37 homeruns and drove in 94 runs for the Atlanta Braves last season. After the team kept two of three starting pitchers who became free agents following the conclusion of the 2019 campaign, Minnesota set its sights on boosting an all-time batting lineup.
Not only did they maintain the power-hitting identity their lineup established, hitting 307 homers – a new record across the span of a single MLB season, but the Twins could be even more powerful. Nelson Cruz had 41 and Donaldson would rank second with his 37 if he played for the Twins in 2019.
The Twins lost only two of their eight hitters who accounted for more than 20 homeruns last year – by the way, another MLB record. These were C. J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, who both departed for free agency, joined the Tigers and left the infield as a major part of their team that general manager Thad Levine needed to address this winter.
Donaldson, however, more than filled in at third base. The 2007 first-round pick by the Chicago Cubs finished 6th in WAR among position players in the National League, ultimately earning the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Donaldson lived up to his reputation of the 2015 AL MVP on an expensive all-or-nothing one-year contract that paid off for both the Braves and Donaldson himself.
Somehow the projections are even higher for the Twins offensively than last season. Miguel Sano, recently extended by the club, will be moving to first base, keeping both him and Josh Donaldson in the starting team on an everyday basis. Byron Buxton, who missed considerable time during 2019 and 2018, will be looking for a healthy campaign that could re-establish Buxton as an elite outfielder.
Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler were among five Twins to hit 30+ homers in 2019. Luiz Arraez will experience his first full season in the majors, while Jorge Polanco had his best numbers in his sixth season in MLB.
Donaldson coming in could probably even improve the lineup’s efficiency. However, what’s more important is that the move covers up a potential drop in offensive numbers for Minnesota.
It’s vital for the team to sustain its 2019 accomplishments in order to be competitive. They now have slightly more obstacles with the White Sox in win-now mode and the Indians still able to earn a postseason berth, and did the minimum to fix rotation-related issues.
Beyond Jose Berrios, who pitched over 200 innings during the 2019 season, the top 3 spots are rounded up by the returning Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. The rest, consisting of Rich Hill and Homer Bailey, who signed one-year deals, rookie Lewis Thorpe and Randy Dobnak, who is on a mission to be strong coming off an injury-ridden season, remains a question mark.
Another important part of the deal is the chaos it is be expected to create amongst Major League front offices, the Nationals, the Braves and the Cardinals in particular. All three of these ballclubs need more production at the position, with the Nationals having lost Anthony Rendon and the Braves having lost, well… Josh Donaldson. St. Louis has already been engaged in trade talks with the Rockies over a possible Nolan Arenado deal following a disappointing 2019 showing by Matt Carpenter.
The Donaldson signing will speed up the process for the Nolan Arenado acquisition and will create competition for the Cardinals in Washington, Atlanta, and probably a few more teams that no longer have an elite third baseman on the market waiting for them.
Still, that makes it a whole lot more difficult for any of the Donaldson candidates to find another good third baseman. For the Twins, this means a move that could end up deciding the 2019 AL Central crown in their favour with the pitching still in development mode. That will need to be figured out come March 26th, though.