The potential on-field effects of adding three-time All-Star and former MVP Josh Donaldson to the reigning American League Central champions are almost too numerous to track. The Twins will open the 2020 season, for instance, with six players on their roster who hit 30 or more home runs last year, the most in major league history.
Here’s another: Donaldson drew 100 walks last season, the second time in his career he’s done that. No Twin has walked 100 times since Harmon Killebrew in 1970. Or this: It’s been five seasons since any player manned third base, the Twins’ least stable position in that time, for more than 100 games in a season, a streak the Twins surely hope Donaldson ends this summer.
But as Donaldson signs his $92 million contract Wednesday and begins meeting his new teammates this weekend at TwinsFest, there are plenty of off-the-field effects worth noting as well. Here are a handful:
Donaldson’s $21 million annual salary brings the Twins’ projected Opening Day payroll to an estimated $137 million, a 15.25% increase (or roughly $18 million) over last season. That’s a new franchise record, about $8 million more than the $129 million the Twins spent to start the 2018 season.
A $137 million payroll would also match the average major league payroll of 2019 — it’s too early to pinpoint the 2020 average — a level the Twins have rarely reached in this century. It still figures to fall more than $100 million short of the Yankees’ contractual outlays, however.
Donaldson himself, however, actually will absorb a bit of a pay cut. The 2015 American League MVP with Toronto was paid $23 million by the Blue Jays in 2018, his final year of arbitration eligibility. After that season was ruined because of a serious calf injury, Donaldson agreed to a one-year free-agent contract at the same $23 million salary with the Braves, anticipating a return to the market once he had re-established his value.
Adding five minor league players to their 40-man roster in November in order to shield them from the Rule 5 draft, then signing Michael Pineda, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard and Homer Bailey as free agents has filled every spot on the roster. In fact, the Twins have 41 players, with Pineda being placed on the restricted list, since he won’t be eligible to return from his PED suspension until Mother’s Day weekend.
That means a player will have to be waived or traded in order to sign Donaldson. If no deals are worked out, the player cut almost certainly will be a pitcher, since 23 of them occupy roster spots. The Twins have given few clues about their thinking, but the leading candidates figure to be righthander Sean Poppen, who closed an encouraging minor league season as a starter by posting a 7.56 ERA in four relief appearances in the majors, and Ryne Harper, a righthander who earned a spot in the Twins’ bullpen during spring training last year and completed his rookie season with a 3.81 ERA. Poppen’s age, 26 by Opening Day, could give him an advantage over the soon-to-be-31-year-old Harper.
Spring training competition
If the Twins stay healthy, their position-player roster is virtually set, draining spring training of any who’ll-make-it intrigue. Adding Donaldson gives the Twins 12 position players whose roster sports are virtually certain, likely leaving only one spot for a dozen or so invitees to fight over.
Will Rocco Baldelli choose to keep a fourth outfielder — Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade or a rookie such as Trevor Larnach or Luke Raley — on the major league team, or does the presence of Marwin Gonzalez make that unnecessary? Does the versatility and catching ability of Willians Astudillo compel Baldelli to choose him instead?
That’s about it for position-player question marks.
By signing a free agent who declined a qualifying offer, the Twins must forfeit their third-round pick in this June’s amateur draft. That’s not much of a penalty, though, especially since their 101 wins last year relegate them to picking fourth from the end of each round. With compensation picks between rounds, the lost pick would have been close to No. 100, and the track record of big leaguers picked that late is thin.
Only four of their third-round picks this century have worn a Twins uniform, and only Brian Duensing (2005) had a major impact. Then again, Justin Morneau (1999) and Bert Blyleven (1969) were third-rounders.
OK, this one is trivial, except to Twins fans who own Eddie Rosario jerseys. But except for his rookie season with Oakland, and a six-week stay in Cleveland, Donaldson has worn No. 20 his entire career. So has Rosario. It remains to be seen whether Rosario surrenders it to his new teammate.