It’s hard to understand how a star such as Josh Donaldson, who recently signed a four-year, $92 million contract with the Twins, can bounce around baseball for nine seasons before getting his first long-term contract.
Donaldson has simply been one of the best players in baseball since 2013, but only once has he had a contract of longer than one season, and that was a two-year deal with Toronto in 2016-17.
Donaldson was a first-round pick of the Cubs in 2007 but was dealt a year later to Oakland as part of a package for pitchers Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. Donaldson made his MLB debut in 2010 and established himself a star in 2013-14, when he hit 53 homers over two seasons with 191 RBI and a .277 batting average with the Athletics.
The A’s, who always seem to deal their best players, sent Donaldson to Toronto after 2014 for four players, including Brett Lawrie and Kendall Graveman.
In his first season in Canada, Donaldson hit .297 with 41 homers, 41 doubles and led the league in RBI (123) and runs (122) as he won the AL MVP and the Blue Jays won the AL East.
He was almost as good in 2016, hitting .284 with 37 HRs, 99 RBI and 122 runs scored and finished fourth in MVP voting. In 2017 his numbers dropped as injuries limited him to 113 games, but he still hit 33 HRs with 78 RBI.
The injury problems got worse for Donaldson in 2018, when he played only 52 games. That included 16 games in September for Cleveland, after the Indians acquired him Aug. 31 for minor league pitcher Julian Merryweather.
Hitting free agency after such a season limited Donaldson’s options. He signed a one-year, $23 million deal with Atlanta, where he won 2019 NL Comeback Player of the Year after hitting hit 37 homers to go along with 100 walks, 94 RBI and 96 runs scored.
How the Twins signed him
The Twins financial commitment to Donaldson made a big difference to the 34-year-old.
“Definitely, I think that was an added bonus to it and probably the finishing touch to it,” Donaldson told me at TwinsFest last weekend. “But there was a lot of things that kind of led me up prior to that.
“I feel like after weighing the pros and cons list from the all the organizations that were interested in me, that this was just going to be the best fit for my family and my friends and myself.”
Donaldson had other offers from around the majors, but he also talked about how his success at Target Field made a difference in his decision.
In 22 games at the Twins’ home, Donaldson has hit .373 with 10 home runs, 21 RBI and 22 runs scored.
“I love the ballpark,” he said. “Have had a lot of success there. I love the dimensions and everything, it feels like it’s kind of on top of you like how it has the tiers, the decks behind it, the ball really seemed to be carrying well out of here last year.”
Did Donaldson ever feel that he was close to signing elsewhere?
“I don’t know, the Twins were always kind of the front-runners probably throughout the last month of the process,” he said. “And from there on out I don’t know if there was another team that was as close where I would actually sign.”
He also added that coming to this team after they won the AL Central last season and already had such a great offense made a big difference.
“I think it is definitely intriguing, and it’s nice to kind of walk into that situation,” Donaldson said. “For me, it kind of tells you more about the entire team’s success, and hopefully I can come in and contribute to that.”
And Donaldson believes the depth of the Twins lineup means this team not only can compete in 2020 but for the entire length of his contract, which includes a fifth-year option.
“I definitely think this team is capable of it, I think the division right now is prime at least for two or three more years, minimum, of us going on that type of run,” he said.
Catcher turned infielder
Donaldson recalled how he got his start in baseball when he was just a kid.
“My uncle. We were in my grandmother’s front yard one night and he started throwing Wiffle balls to me from about 10 feet, 15 feet away,” he said. “I just started hitting it and he started moving back, throwing it harder, I kept hitting it even further.”
He said that what turned him into a great baseball player was when he finally started really dedicating himself to learning the game.
“Honestly there was a lot of stuff for me, I picked a lot of people’s brains,” Donaldson said. “But really, until I kind of started digging into it and doing my own research into it, that’s when I started learning a lot.”
Donaldson came up as a catcher before the A’s moved him to the infield and changed his career.
“I got the opportunity in 2012 to move over to third base, and I got sent down a couple of times and was able to kind of figure it out and ultimately end up at third base,” he said.
And now he is considered one of the best third basemen in baseball, and he finally has the contract to go along with the accolades.
• It was very sad to hear that Mike Wright, the former Gophers football great and business leader, had died at 81. There are not many people in the world who did more for Gophers football than Wright did.
• It’s hard to think of a more difficult time for the NBA than what has happened lately with the death of Kobe Bryant and also David Stern. Back in 2000, following the retirement of Michael Jordan, I talked to Stern about the future of the game and he said: “People are going to get to know the Kevin Garnetts and Terrell Brandons, they’re going to get to know the Chris Webbers and the Jason Williamses. They’re going to get to know the Allen Iversons and the Ray Allensand the Shaqs [Shaquille O’Neal] and Kobes.” One of my fond memories of Stern is that when I would bump into him, he would always say, “I’ve got your book in my shelf!”
• Former Gophers linebacker Damien Wilson will start for the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. The 26-year-old, who is in the final year of a two-year, $5.75 million deal, will be an unrestricted free agent and could get a big payday.
• With the Vikings’ salary cap problems, they are fortunate to have All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks signed through 2023 for $8.4 million per season.
• Twins President Dave St. Peter on getting the NHL Winter Classic at Target Field: “Obviously [Wild owner] Craig Leipold has been leading that charge in this market, and it has been long overdue to come to Minnesota. We’ve always felt Target Field was the perfect venue for it.”
• Daronte Jones, the new Vikings secondary coach, coached under St. Louis Park’s Marc Trestman for Montreal in the CFL.
• Pro Football Focus has Antoine Winfield Jr. ranked the No. 6 safety in the NFL draft. He was the only Gophers player in the top 10 at his position.
• The leading scorer for No. 20 Colorado is Champlin Park grad McKinley Wright IV at 13.4 points per game entering Saturday.