MINNEAPOLIS — After signaling an intent to aggressively seek upgrades to a club that won 101 games last season, the Minnesota Twins were passed over in their initial pursuit of top-tier starting pitching.
As the grousing from some corners of the fan base grew, the Twins were undeterred. They just doubled down on an already deep lineup and landed a premier slugger and fielder in three-time All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson.
"Our goal was to find a way to impact this team in a significant way and find ways to improve upon a club that we felt was really talented, that had some success last year, but had a chance to continue to take even more steps forward," said president of baseball operations Derek Falvey. "And as we went through that, there's a really small subset of players in free agency and even through trade that you can acquire that have that kind of impact. And in Josh Donaldson, we most certainly have found that."
Donaldson and the Twins finalized their four-year, $92 million contract Wednesday that is the richest in franchise history for a free agent. Donaldson agreed last week to the deal that includes a club option for a fifth season. The 34-year-old will make $21 million per season. For 2024, the Twins can either retain him for $16 million or buy him out for $8 million.
Though Minnesota has never been a destination market, with those frequently cold Aprils clearly a factor, the Twins have forged a solid reputation around the game for their pristine ballpark, family-vibe organization and player-friendly atmosphere in the clubhouse that has only increased under manager Rocco Baldelli.
Donaldson, introduced at a news conference at Target Field, said he instructed his agent, Dan Lozano, to inform the Twins at the beginning of the offseason of his interest in joining them. The 2 1/2-hour phone conversation earlier this winter with team officials only piqued his desire.
"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,'" the 34-year-old Donaldson said. "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."
The deal far surpassed the previous high-dollar mark for Minnesota on the open market, a four-year, $55 million deal for starting pitcher Ervin Santana that began in 2015. The Twins gave catcher Joe Mauer an eight-year, $184 million contract in 2010, but that was an in-house extension that kicked in the following season.
Though the societal force of instant gratification fueled frustration among fans stinging from an American League Division Series sweep by the New York Yankees after starting pitchers including Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner picked other teams, Twins leadership has steadfastly praised owner Jim Pohlad for being willing to spend however the front office sees fit.
"If we think it's the right investment, we're going to go pursue it," Falvey said. "If the player wants to come here — we feel we've created an attractive environment for players to want to come to — then we can finish it off."
Because Donaldson turned down a $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Atlanta Braves, the Twins will forfeit their third-round pick in the June amateur draft, No. 101 overall. Atlanta gets a compensation selection, No. 73.
Donaldson batted .259 with 33 doubles, 37 home runs, 96 runs, 94 RBIs and 100 walks in 155 games for Atlanta in 2019, his lone season with the Braves. The 2015 AL MVP award winner with the Toronto Blue Jays, Donaldson will give Baldelli the pleasure of squeezing him into a batting order that established the all-time MLB record with 307 home runs in 2019.
"There were just few players in the game — shoot, since I've been in the game — that are as talented, as quality, as well-rounded of a player as Josh is," Baldelli said.
The Twins also pursued Donaldson for his ability to upgrade the infield defense that was a relative weakness last year. His arrival will move Miguel Sanó across the diamond to first base. Donaldson led AL third basemen in putouts in 2013, 2015 and 2016 and was first in assists in 2014. Last season, he was second in the National League in assists and third in putouts. According to the advanced metric defensive runs saved calculated by FanGraphs, Donaldson was second among MLB third basemen with 15, behind the Oakland Athletics' Matt Chapman (18). The next-closest third basemen had eight. Sanó was rated a minus-five.
There was also, for both team and player, the benefit of Donaldson's history of hitting well at 10-year-old Target Field. In 22 career games, he has batted .373 with seven doubles, 10 homers and 21 RBIs.
Said Donaldson: "For some reason, this stadium sets up well for me. Maybe it's the background ... whatever its been, I've taken a liking to it."