The current situation for Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson might be the most intriguing headline for post-lockout news. Donaldson was given a relatively large contract for someone who is in the later half of their career, especially for a small-market team that limited spending often.
After reaching the halfway point of the four-year, $92 million deal, are the Twins getting any return on their investment? Or is it time to move on and sell when the market will be scorching hot after the lockout?
What should the Minnesota Twins do with Josh Donaldson?
Josh Donaldson began his career as an underdog with the Oakland A’s, and the confidence he built early on carried him to become one of the most underrated players in baseball. He shocked doubters year in and year out, earning the 2015 AL MVP, three All-Star game appearances, and 2 Silver Slugger awards.
One of the most surprising things about Donaldson is that since his permanent arrival into the league in 2012, he has been the second best player in the American League behind only Mike Trout (not much has changed since the end of 2019) and
JD is also ranked thirtieth in All-Time WAR amongst third baseman, an impressive feat considering he’s only played eleven seasons. Despite being constantly overshadowed by players like Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez and more, Donaldson has quite the argumentative case for being the best at his position.
If you look at all of this it makes sense the Twins offered a contract for nearly $100 million to a 34 year old. He is a proven star who does not get enough recognition because of his late bloom. Injury history or his large persona might play a role into why he is always overlooked, as he has only averaged 109 games per season through his career (though 2020 plays a role in that).
In the time he’s been healthy, however, he’s been dominant, with the biggest aspect JD has contributed to the game has been his hitting approach. With velocities increasing and pitch counts being reduced by heavy bullpen use, batters need a shift in their approach to adapt to the constant changes in the game.
In an interview with MLB network’s Mark DeRosa, Donaldson displayed his approach that not only saved his career, but what helped establish himself as a premier hitter in today’s game. It’s clear he’s one of the most underappreciated players in baseball, something that has continued into his mid-thirties.
With all that being said, where does that leave him now? The realistic approach to analyzing Josh Donaldson as a Minnesota Twin is that this is not 2015 anymore. Calf injuries have plagued him for years now and it has not shown any improvement.
2019 was a great bounce back season which displayed what JD still has to offer after a brutal 2018, but since leaving Atlanta, he has struggled to remain on the field. 2021 favored JD nicely with a 3.2 WAR, but his defensive metrics took a sharp downturn to the point where JD is now being considered primarily DH only moving forward. That 3.2 WAR is only worth a value of 17 Million versus the 23 million he is being paid.
He’s been on a relatively steady decline, but it’s been a noticeable one. To counter the lack of defensive production last year, JD was used more as a designated hitter, playing in 135 games. Maintaining that many games played over the next two seasons will average around the same WAR, which taking value means JD will have a value of 51 million over three seasons in which he is getting paid 69 million.
Any GM in baseball would love to get near 75% ROI for a player in his mid-late thirties. Most players in this situation are putting up negative WAR and are quickly on their way out of baseball. Donaldson’s hitting approach allows for him to continue to succeed as he ages as well.
So what should the Minnesota Twins do with Josh Donaldson?
That’s the big question now. They have plenty of young talent ready for playing time that can play third base (hello Jose Miranda). Alex Kirilloff has the bat to fill in at DH for many future seasons, and Miguel Sano figures to play there some as well. So why keep Josh Donaldson?
The Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets are both rumored to be interested in obtaining JD. Both teams would be near perfect fits. Both teams are in better contention to win over the Twins and they can take on the remaining salary (or the Twins could eat some for a better return).
But the Twins should not trade Donaldson. Every clubhouse needs a leader and a spark plug, a role that JD fills really well. His bulldog presence boosts the confidence of younger players and creates a competitive edge that most teams do not have.
He also has the experience in big games which is crucial for younger players for development. If you need proof, here is a video of what Josh Donaldson will bring to your ball club. He should stick around for at least 2022.
What do you think? Are the Minnesota Twins better off with moving his contract? Or is he the piece needed to compete in 2022 and finally make a playoff push? Comment below! Or you can tweet your opinions to @masonkeith25