Except for a two-year contract with Toronto in 2016, Josh Donaldson has been a one-year-deal guy. That wasn’t really by design, but it was the reason he never settled for long in one baseball town.
That all changes now after the 2015 American League MVP signed a four-year, $92 million contract, a record for a free agent signed by the Twins. He will earn $21 million in each of the next four seasons, the second-highest average annual salary in franchise history.
Donaldson has the security he coveted, but what does that really mean?
Let us count the ways:
• The 34-year-old third baseman is the final touch in a lineup that smashed a major league-record 307 home runs last season while winning 101 games.
• Lefthanded pitchers will reach for antacids when they peek at a lineup with righthanded mashers such as Donaldson (37 homers for the Braves last season), Nelson Cruz (41), Miguel Sano (34) and Mitch Garver (31).
• Donaldson is a take-no-prisoners type who could become an emotional leader for a team looking to return to the postseason for the second consecutive season. Donaldson is looking to play in his third consecutive postseason — and seventh in the past eight years.
• Donaldson will improve the Twins defense. He was second in the National League in defensive runs saved at third base with 15. Miguel Sano, last year’s third baseman when healthy, will switch to first base, where the club believes he is better suited.
Donaldson views his move to the Twin Cities — he’s already closing on a house Thursday — as an opportunity to leave a lasting mark on a club that’s looking to stack playoff appearances and play well into October.
“I’m really looking forward to not just helping this organization on the field, but helping this organization as a whole,” Donaldson said. “Developing younger guys, looking at each and every way that we can to succeed on an everyday basis, and I think that you’re able to get — there’s plenty of information out there for younger guys, but what it takes is guys that understand the information to help get the message across to them and continue to help these guys develop through their tenure as a Minnesota Twin.”
‘Don’t forget the Twins’
Donaldson slipped on a No. 24 jersey over his three-piece suit at a news conference Wednesday at Target Field. He’s worn 20 for most of his career, and likely will negotiate with left fielder Eddie Rosario for that number.
He picked the Twins from an initial group of six interested teams, including Atlanta, Washington and Texas. The Twins inquired about Donaldson early in the free-agency period in case their pursuit of an impact starting pitcher fell short. When righthander Zack Wheeler signed with the Phillies, Hyun-Jin Ryu joined the Blue Jays and Dallas Keuchel went to the White Sox, the Twins pivoted to Donaldson.
“At the beginning, there’s a lot of interest that was being shown, and I remember the Minnesota Twins in there,” said Donaldson. “I think it was probably about a week or two, I called my agent Dan [Lozano]. I said ‘Hey, man, I want you call the Twins and let them know I want to be there, and I think it’s real opportunity for us.’
“There’s a lot of things for me why it drew me here. I think the division sets up well, being back in the American League fits well, personal success in this stadium has definitely been something that I was looking forward to possibly being here one day.”
Reaching an agreement
The courtship had its ups and downs. Donaldson spoke of a productive December conference call with President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey and manager Rocco Baldelli.
When asked about the call, Donaldson said: “The message I tried to get across to them was, ‘Look, I don’t want to just impact your team on the field. I want to impact the entire organization,’ and this could possibly be my final contract at some point and I want to leave an imprint on this organization for whenever I am finished playing.’ ”
But a month later, reports had Donaldson looking for a $110 million deal, and Twins officials expressed doubt they would land him.
“They started feeling like they were on the outside looking in,” Lozano said. “but I said to Derek multiple times, ‘You guys are real players in this. Don’t go sideways.’ I never thought they were out.”
Momentum toward a deal was restored a couple weeks ago, then the Twins added an option year for 2024 for $16 million or an $8 million buyout that got them to the finish line.
“There was never a moment where I felt like, hey, he doesn’t really want the Twins to be ‘in,’ ” Falvey said. “It felt like he wanted the Twins to be in throughout the conversation.”
Money always plays a factor in these decisions, but coming to a 101-win team helps.
“And looking from afar at the team that I saw as a visiting player, the amount of ability that was here, the love and exuberance for the game, and an overall talented team that was tough to play against, that obviously drew me to want to be a Minnesota Twin,” Donaldson said.
Check the forecast
Donaldson, who won his MVP in 2015 with a 41-homer, 123-RBI season in Toronto, rebounded after two injury-marred seasons to win the National League comeback player of the year award with Atlanta last season, hitting 37 homers and driving in 94 runs. His defensive prowess only adds to his value.
“He’s a tremendous third baseman … he does it all over there and does it well,” Baldelli said. “That was not lost upon us in any way. He helps us solidify our group in lot of ways defensively.”
And now, Donaldson is set to prove that more is coming while helping the Twins return to the postseason.
“I enjoy winning,” he said. “Over my entire career I’ve been pretty successful at doing that and establishing an environment that’s successful for winning and ultimately it comes down to competing. I’ve enjoyed competing ever since I was a very small child.
“The other end of that is I don’t enjoy losing. I want to do what it takes. It’s a long season and sometimes peoples’ feathers get a little bit ruffled and that’s OK. As long as you’re staying true to yourself, that’s what I enjoy to do.”
Nicknamed “Bringer of Rain,” Donaldson ended his day at Target Field with some outdoor pictures for the team. And on Jan. 22, as darkness fell on what is usually one of the coldest days of winter … it was raining.