The Twins’ decision to bring in third baseman Josh Donaldson should put an end to the constant refrain that the Pohlad family — owners of the club for over three decades — wouldn’t spend money to build a winner, a notion that has never been true but has still been talked about as if it was a defining part of this franchise.
Going back to the days of General Managers Andy MacPhail and Terry Ryan, the Pohlads have always told their front office that they can spend millions on player contracts and free agents if it will help build a winning ballclub. Current owner Jim Pohlad continues that philosophy.
Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey told me after the 2019 season that he knew this team was in a great position with a lot of payroll flexibility, and club ownership had told him they were willing to make big moves to keep this team competing not only for a division title, but for a World Series.
“I have said this before and I will say it again, Jim Pohlad supported every step that we have made around investing in this club,” Falvey said. “It led to the club we had on the field this year [in 2019] and we’ll continue to build and add to it as we go into the offseason.”
And now you have Donaldson’s four-year, $92 million contract, which has incentives that could bring the total to $100 million, if the Twins pick up their club option on Donaldson for $16 million in 2024. It is the biggest investment the franchise has ever made on the free-agent market.
There’s no question that signing Nelson Cruz last season for two years and $26 million really paid off when the designated hitter had a spectacular year in 2019 with 41 homers and 108 RBI. Their signing of Ervin Santana in 2014 to a four-year, $55 million deal was at the time the largest contract ever given by the club to a free agent. He had a 30-25 record with a 3.68 ERA for the Twins and was named to the American League All-Star team in 2017.
But if you want a real comparison to Donaldson — who is 34 and won the AL MVP in 2015 and has averaged 33 home runs over his past six full seasons — you’d need to go back to the signing of Jack Morris in 1991.
People forget, but the $3 million deal Twins owner Carl Pohlad gave Morris was one of the richest in baseball at the time.
The top contract in baseball in 1991 was Jose Canseco with the Oakland Athletics, making $4.7 million. Morris’ contract fell right around No. 20. Donaldson’s $23 million salary for 2020 currently is tied for 27th in the majors with Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
But just as important as the Twins’ decision to pay Donaldson was his willingness to pass up other offers from teams such as the Braves and Nationals.
When Morris signed with the Twins in 1991, the St. Paul native had an offer for a guaranteed $9.3 million with the Tigers, but he passed that up to play one season in his home state. The big difference is that Donaldson is getting a contract that will set him up for life, no matter how he plays.
When Morris came here, it was on an incentive-laden deal that allowed him to become a free agent after the season. If he had stayed, reaching those incentives could have made the contract worth $8 million over three years.
He told me at the time that his decision to sign with the Twins was a calculated risk.
“If I didn’t think I could pitch, I wouldn’t be doing this,” Morris said. “The way I look at it, it’s a gamble. I could go out and get hit by a car. Then I’ve made a bad decision. But if I do what I’ve done all along, then I’ve made a good decision. I look at it as a challenge.”
Morris finished the 1991 regular season with a 18-12 record and 3.43 ERA in 246⅔ innings pitched.
But he famously made his name in the ’91 World Series when he went 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA over 23 innings and threw 10 shutout innings in the 1-0 Game 7 victory at the Metrodome.
Morris’ gamble paid off. He signed with the Blue Jays a few weeks after the World Series for the richest contract for a pitcher at the time, $10.85 million over two seasons.
Donaldson will have less pressure on himself than Morris, who was asked to anchor a rotation on a club that had finished 74-88 in 1990.
He joins a club with a historic offense, setting a MLB record by hitting 307 home runs. They went 101-61 and won the AL Central title.
If Byron Buxton stays healthy, the 2020 roster has a chance to be one of the most dynamic in baseball history.
Signing Miguel Sano to a three-year, $30 million deal Tuesday only makes this week better for the Twins front office.
After drawing 2.3 million fans last season, their most since 2014, the Twins could draw over 3 million fans next season for only the fourth time in franchise history.
• You have to wonder if former Vikings coach Brad Childress, who gave Kevin Stefanski his first NFL job with the Vikings in 2006, will get a spot on the Browns coaching staff after Stefanski was named their head coach Monday. Childress was a senior offensive assistant with the Bears last season.
• USA Today ran a four-round NFL mock draft and had Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. going No. 41 to Stefanski and the Browns. They had Gophers wide receiver Tyler Johnson going in the fourth round to the Raiders, who will play their first season in Las Vegas. They also had the Vikings taking USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson with their first-round pick, No 25 overall.
• Former Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica is posting career highs in points (12.2), rebounds (6.6), assists (2.5), shooting percentage (48.0), three-point percentage (43.4) and free-throw percentage (83.7) for the Kings. On Monday he scored 34 points on 13-for-16 shooting to go along with eight three-pointers in a 114-112 loss to Orlando.
• The Wild drafted Alexander Khovanov with a third-round pick in 2018 and the 19-year-old Russian standout had a great showing at the 2020 IHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic. In seven games the forward had three goals and five assists and finished 13th in points for the tournament.
• The Vikings opened this season with the eight-best odds to win the Super Bowl at 18-1 in Las Vegas. Their odds for next season just opened at 25-1, tied for ninth with the Falcons, Bears, Chargers, Rams and Seahawks.