Frustrated in their attempts to land an established ace in free agency, the Twins on Tuesday acquired a player who will help the team’s pitching staff in an underrated way:
They won’t have to face Josh Donaldson anymore.
Donaldson, who owns the highest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage of any opponent in Twins history, on Tuesday accepted the largest free-agent contract the team has ever agreed to: a four-year deal that guarantees the 34-year-old third baseman $92 million.
Those terms — an average annual salary of $21 million, plus an option for a fifth year in 2024 that could bring the total to more than $100 million, or a buyout worth $8 million — dwarf the $54 million guarantee that Ervin Santana received five years ago, which stood until now as the priciest deal lavished on an outsider.
But that money buys the Twins significant upgrades on defense, where the rangy three-time all-star will displace Miguel Sano to first base, and on offense, where the 2015 AL MVP effectively replaces C.J. Cron, whose power and knack for getting on base are a level below Donaldson’s.
It may be counterintuitive for the most prolific home run hitting team in baseball history to add home runs — and Donaldson bashed 37 for the Atlanta Braves last season — but the Twins couldn’t resist pursuing their most persistent tormentor.
Donaldson’s .395 career batting average, his .487 on-base percentage and his .852 slugging percentage, each the highest of any player in baseball history against the Twins (minimum 100 plate appearances), demonstrate the demoralizing effect that he’s had on his new team over his nine-year career.
“I’m glad I finally get to enjoy him hammering baseballs vs. avoiding them,” said Twins reliever Tyler Duffey, who faced Donaldson as the second batter in his major league debut in 2015 — and watched a 400-foot home run disappear into the Rogers Centre seats. “I can’t wait to pick his brain. The guy’s a gamer.”
His gamesmanship may have extended into a month’s worth of contract negotiations, too. Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine made their presentation to Donaldson and his agent, Dan Lozano, nearly a month ago, but reportedly came away fearing that the Florida native preferred to remain in Atlanta. As the weeks dragged on without a decision, they grew pessimistic about their chances to sign him, particularly when a credible story emerged that the third baseman was waiting for a suitor to guarantee him $110 million, more than the Twins wanted to pay.
The Twins stayed in contact with Lozano, however, and didn’t withdraw their offer. And shortly after Sano signed his own three-year contract on Tuesday, and expressed his willingness to give up third base if necessary, Donaldson chose Minnesota.
He was impressed with manager Rocco Baldelli and excited to play for him, according to a source close to the former Athletic, Blue Jay, Indian and Brave, and he valued his familiarity with the American League, where he has played his entire career except 2019.
“A lot of years playing against each other, glad to finally share the same uniform and not have to face you anymore!” tweeted Twins pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who at $17 million now becomes the second-highest paid player on the Twins’ 2020 roster. “Welcome.”
Donaldson was drafted as a catcher out of Auburn by the Cubs in 2007, but switched to the corner infield positions once he reached the major leagues with Oakland in 2012. He flourished with the Blue Jays, winning the MVP for his 41-homer, 123-RBI season in 2015 and leading Toronto to the ALCS.
But his career appeared in jeopardy in 2017 and 2018, when calf and shoulder injuries limited him to 113 and 52 games. He came roaring back last season, winning the NL Comeback of the Year award for his season with the Braves, a season that included a .900 OPS.
The Twins hit 307 home runs last season and had a record five — Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Sano, Mitch Garver and Eddie Rosario — hit more than 30, as did Donaldson.
Referring to Donaldson’s well-known Twitter name, Garver tweeted, “Hey @BringerOfRain20 bring some rain to MN, and make it purple!”