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Front Page: Devil's Advocate: Why the Josh Donaldson Deal Isn't Good for the Twins

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#1 Matthew Lenz

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 07:30 PM

Alright, we’ve all had time to be excited about the Minnesota Twins making an impact move and landing MLB Trade Rumors' fifth-best free agent of 2020. Now, it’s time to look at the other side: why isn’t this a good deal for the Twins as they enter their competitive window?[DISCLAIMER: My punishment (okay, not actually a “punishment” per se) for writing and publishing a piece on Matt Hall the day the Bringer of Rain was signed was writing a piece opposing the signing. Mr. Donaldson, I assume you’re reading this and please know that I love you’re going to wear a Twins uniform for the next few years!]

I think the easiest opposition to this, which I’ve seen on Twitter, is to say that the Twins haven’t answered their biggest need in a starting pitcher. Miguel Sano and C.J. Cron played passably at the hot corners in 2019 so bringing them back and saving the money for a frontline starter, whether it be via free agency or trade, is how $92 million should have been spent.

Possibly the next easiest criticism is his age. Giving a four-year, $92 million deal to a guy entering his age-34 season is undoubtedly a risk. I think there are two parts to this theory, which is to look at the average aging curve for him as a hitter and him as a defender. In a series of articles from Jeff Zimmerman, he explored the topic of the aging hitter and found an interesting pattern: on average, hitters enter the league at their best and decline as they years go one. In other words, there is not a true aging “curve”.

Download attachment: aging_curve_wrcp.jpg

Using wRC+ as the measurement , Zimmerman created the above display to show the aging curve. As noted in the legend, each color represents a different era where the “06 to 13” era is the post-PED’s era and is the data that we should use to predict how Donaldson will age. In 2019, his age-33 season, Donaldson had a wRC+ of 132 and Zimmerman’s data would suggest that Donaldson would decrease in 2020 so much so that he would become a below average hitter and end his tenure as a Twin as an awful hitter. Although this much of a decline at the plate seems unlikely, I think it’s fair to think that some decline will happen each season from 2019 to 2023 and that we will likely be paying Donaldson more than he is worth in the last year or two of his contract.

On the other hand, the defensive aging “curve” is a little harder to predict as defense is generally harder to measure anyway. Regardless, Jeff Zimmerman found a similar pattern when using UZR to predict future performance.



Although Donaldson’s UZR numbers have been a bit sporadic, which isn’t unusual, he’s been an “above average” defender or worse by FanGraphs standards since 2016. Using the chart above, it’s likely that he will be a liability at third base for at least half of his contract. With the extension of Sano, there won’t be anywhere for Josh to go other than becoming a designated hitter. Maybe this was one factor of choosing the Twins over the Braves?

The final opposition to this article is looking at the impact a $23M average annual value (AAV) salary will impact on keeping our current young studs like Berrios and Buxton, our future prospects like Lewis, Graterol, etc., and/or acquiring another impact player. Although it’s a step in the right direction, the Donaldson signing put the Twins right in the middle of the pack, in terms of payroll, at about $138M.

There are currently only four teams in Major League Baseball who have more than one player who is averaging $20M or more in AAV, so it seems unlikely the Twins would join such a small group of teams. Even if we lower the AAV to $15M there are only 10 teams who have more than one player that make as much.

In short, acquiring a second impact player via trade or free agency seems unlikely. If any of the players mentioned above want to test the waters of free agency then the Twins will likely lose out in a bidding war, which means they will need to sign those players to team friendly deals like they did with Polanco, Kepler, and Sano. This relies heavily on the players preference of security over money and the players becoming or remaining as big reasons for the Twins winning.

As with most multi-year deals, there is some risk involved. The longer the contract and the older the player the more the risk increases. In the end, time will tell if the Josh Donaldson contract provides the value that all Twins fans are assuming it will.

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#2 drivlikejehu

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 08:08 PM

I'm at a loss as to how the free agency of Royce Lewis is related to the signing of Josh Donaldson.

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#3 BrianTrottier

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 08:17 PM

An argument against signing Donaldson is that he might have to be a DH at some point?Much of your argument is predicated on his potential defensive decline, so wouldn't his being able to DH be a reason for signing him?


#4 hugelycat

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 08:25 PM

These are all good reasons to be cautious about Donaldson. And I understand you're playing devil's advocate. But I'd argue three points in response:

1. Certain skills age differently than others. And players who are elite at one skill will age differently than players who are elite at other skills. For example, Donaldson ranked 8th in all MLB in hard hit balls last year, and while that type of player will still decline with age, players who hit hard tend to remain above average in production later than other types of players. There's a good article on this from last year by Matt Hartzell.

2. While the charts you cited show average decline by age, do we know whether the decline is the same rate for elite players? I did a quick search, but couldn't find data on that. While I don't know whether it's true, I would guess people at the top of the game usually decline more slowly than average players, simply because they have some skill that made them elite in the first place.

3. Even if Donaldson does decline and we have to eat bad production at the end of the contract, that's the cost of doing business in MLB. If you want to ever sign a top tier free agent, you have to pay a premium that will be worth it at the beginning, but most likely decline and look like an overpay at the end of the contract. Otherwise, you'll never get high end players in free agency. So while it wouldn't surprise me if Donaldson declines by year 4, and/or his contract makes other signings more difficult, the alternative is not signing any elite players. I would rather take the risk of signing him, especially when our window is now.

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#5 strumdatjaguar

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 08:39 PM

Remember the fans who complained about Mauer in his last years.Deja Vu in 2 years?


#6 DocBauer

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 08:52 PM

Fully appreciate your disciple...err...assignment to write this devil's advocate piece.

There is a risk involved, we all know that. But power and late discipline age slowly or elite bats. He can side to 1B or DH after a couple of years. All he really needs to do is work out and stay healthy, IMO, which you would tend to expect of a professional athlete.

His signing also changes the perception of the Twins to their current players, and future FA possibilities.

Considering the immediate, and future payroll considerations, and those of players who have yet to arrive, his contract should not handcuff the Twins.

Any risk is worth noting. But barring an absolute collapse of some sort, the good far outweighs most any potential risk.
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#7 specialiststeve

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 09:09 PM

Here is how I see this going....

 

Nelson Cruz was great last year and hopefully as good this year but his contract is up after this year. Hopefully he will have another great year and we sign him for another year... but if he ends up leaving ...

 

Donaldson can take more time at DH to take several days off a week in years to come and likely the full time DH in years 3 and 4 if his defense goes down hill or if he is wearing down too much. 

 

Lewis should hopefully be ready in 21' and take over at SS.... 

 

Polanco can move over to 3rd. If he can play short he has enough arm to play 3rd. (I played SS and 3rd in college and 3rd takes less of an arm) 

 

Still have a quality lineup and defense would be better up the middle.. Hopefully Arraez has been taking 1000 ground balls over the winter and working on that body! 

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#8 jrod23

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 09:28 PM

Anybody catch Donaldson's SI interview while he was on the golf course.He seemed the opposite of excited when asked about his signing with us.Just how I read the situation I guess.Although I'd hate to be bothered at a charity event as well.


#9 Brandon

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 10:29 PM

If WAR costs an average of 8 million. He needs to be worth 12 WAR to justify the contract. If he produced 6 WAR in his first 2 years any positive value the last 2 years are surplus value anyways. It's fun to bend stats.

#10 prouster

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 11:07 PM

I think it would be a much more interesting discussion if we weighed the pros and cons of Donaldson being on the team, rather than making a hypothetical argument that probably doesn’t actually reflect anyone’s real viewpoint.

This isn’t meant to be a knock on you, Matthew. It’s hard to produce content in the middle of January!

#11 twinstalker

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 11:35 PM

Excellent points brought up, Matthew. It's funny to see the expected "best case scenario" arguments: "of course Josh D. is a great signing because he's so great that we will have greatness now and the Twins will be great." Or something along those lines. You have laid out much better than I why this was a signing I would not have done.

 

Personally, I think the Twins will get one year of "better than what you'd find in the normal course of filling the position," and yet they are likely paying $60 million more for that right.

 

The Twins did not succeed in getting a premium starter this year. That doesn't mean in the next year they won't get get a premium starting pitcher to pay over 3-4 years. But, well, now it does. You may say the Twins will still have money for 2021, but really they won't because whatever they have will be no more money than a lot of teams have. Not every year is the same, in terms of pitchers rejecting us. I think we could outspend to get an impact pitcher...but no longer.

 

This contract will be an albatross, and the front office will not admit that until at least 2023, because it's their deal, just like they've favored the guys they dealt for at the past couple trade deadlines while not placing many of the since-successful guys from the past regime on their 40-man (think Nick Anderson, Dereck Rodriguez, etc). It's natural.

 

I've stated my position, which is similar to what we generally can infer from Falvine's actions to date: better to build for every year than use your magic beans for one year. The window is always open if you don't go overboard or trade away your future.

Winning takes a lot of luck, so put yourself in a position each year by building from within and spending wisely. But instead they play loose with their money this off season.

 

$92 million is about $60 too much for a good player there. How much is Donaldson going to outplay "good player," and is that worth $60 million? On average, I think he's going to be at best "good player," and I think we only see one year where he's better than that. Nope, wouldn't do it.

 


#12 Mr. Brooks

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 07:02 AM

Excellent points brought up, Matthew. It's funny to see the expected "best case scenario" arguments: "of course Josh D. is a great signing because he's so great that we will have greatness now and the Twins will be great." Or something along those lines. You have laid out much better than I why this was a signing I would not have done.

Personally, I think the Twins will get one year of "better than what you'd find in the normal course of filling the position," and yet they are likely paying $60 million more for that right.

The Twins did not succeed in getting a premium starter this year. That doesn't mean in the next year they won't get get a premium starting pitcher to pay over 3-4 years. But, well, now it does. You may say the Twins will still have money for 2021, but really they won't because whatever they have will be no more money than a lot of teams have. Not every year is the same, in terms of pitchers rejecting us. I think we could outspend to get an impact pitcher...but no longer.

This contract will be an albatross, and the front office will not admit that until at least 2023, because it's their deal, just like they've favored the guys they dealt for at the past couple trade deadlines while not placing many of the since-successful guys from the past regime on their 40-man (think Nick Anderson, Dereck Rodriguez, etc). It's natural.

I've stated my position, which is similar to what we generally can infer from Falvine's actions to date: better to build for every year than use your magic beans for one year. The window is always open if you don't go overboard or trade away your future.
Winning takes a lot of luck, so put yourself in a position each year by building from within and spending wisely. But instead they play loose with their money this off season.

$92 million is about $60 too much for a good player there. How much is Donaldson going to outplay "good player," and is that worth $60 million? On average, I think he's going to be at best "good player," and I think we only see one year where he's better than that. Nope, wouldn't do it.


Josh Donaldson has been worth 5+ WAR every year of his career except one.
What "good" player are you going to get that comes close to that for $8M?

#13 beckmt

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 07:12 AM

Let's break this down.

1.With the signings of Sano andDonaldson, not only is Rosario a trade chip, but so is one of Kirloff and Larnich,that is an incentive to getting a good pitcher from a non competitive team (this does not include Rooker, Raley and some others at a lower tier.

2.Twins have 8 - 10 pitchers in the top two minor league levels this year, who could be ace to average major league pitchers.Developing your own pitchers in the fastest way to stay competitive over a long window.It also helps your overall budget.Twins FO seems to be staying away from signing longterm contracts for pitchers over 30 who are not close to ace like. This seems to me to be wise, as pitchers can decline a lot faster than position players. 

3.Somewhere around 2023 the Twins will be able to have a new media contract.This is huge as it will at some amount of spendable revenue above and beyond to the income stream.

 

Twins will have to be wise, but have a chance to have a very good to great team over the next 4 - 5 years for sure, probably more if they make the right moves.

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#14 NCtwinsfan

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 07:44 AM

 

Anybody catch Donaldson's SI interview while he was on the golf course.He seemed the opposite of excited when asked about his signing with us.Just how I read the situation I guess.Although I'd hate to be bothered at a charity event as well.

Yup. Even seemed disappointed that he signed here, but because no one else was even close to offering as much as the twins, he had to choose Minnesota. These two lines in particular: ““It was tough to make that decision, but ultimately (the Twins offer) wasn’t in the same realm for me as far as financially is concerned,” Donaldson said of his decision to leave the Braves after a one-year stint.” and, “Ultimately it didn’t end up the way that we wanted it to.” That stings a little as a twins fan.

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#15 Nine of twelve

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 08:01 AM

 

If WAR costs an average of 8 million. He needs to be worth 12 WAR to justify the contract. If he produced 6 WAR in his first 2 years any positive value the last 2 years are surplus value anyways. It's fun to bend stats.

WAR is purported to be a good measure of a player's value. However, it is somewhat situational, especially in terms of translating it to dollars. If he had signed this contract with, say, the Marlins, a 12-WAR player might move them out of fifth place in the NL East during the course of the contract. Maybe. Money poorly spent.

If he had signed this contract with, say, the Yankees, it would improve their already high likelihood of postseason contention only a little. Again, one could argue money poorly spent, although if there's a lot of money available, so what?

A team will get much more bang for the buck if a player moves it from the edge of contention to strong contention, especially when the team has budget constraints. The Twins fall into this in-between category. Yes, it's unfortunate a high-WAR starting pitcher isn't coming here, but if Donaldson produces not only will his signing be good in and of itself it will make Minnesota a more desirable destination for that type of pitcher in the future.

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#16 Riverbrian

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 08:02 AM

 

Yup. Even seemed disappointed that he signed here, but because no one else was even close to offering as much as the twins, he had to choose Minnesota. These two lines in particular: ““It was tough to make that decision, but ultimately (the Twins offer) wasn’t in the same realm for me as far as financially is concerned,” Donaldson said of his decision to leave the Braves after a one-year stint.” and, “Ultimately it didn’t end up the way that we wanted it to.” That stings a little as a twins fan.

 

If this stings a little as a Twins fan.

 

Remind those Twins fan that he chose us on purpose.

 

He looked at everything and decided on Minnesota.:)

 

If this stings a little, it would be an example of "Gave her my heart but she wanted my soul". You should think twice cuz... it's alright.:)

 

 

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#17 cardsfan

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 08:19 AM

Donaldson has severely injured both his left and right calves. Last year he took some days off in late April with sore calves. He missed a lot of 2017-2018 season.

What ballplayers do you know have ruptured their calves? It seems like it could easily happen again to him.

If he stays healthy he will be quite a player. He is 34 though. Probably should have been 3 years.

#18 NCtwinsfan

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 08:35 AM

 

If this stings a little as a Twins fan.

 

Remind those Twins fan that he chose us on purpose.

 

He looked at everything and decided on Minnesota.:)

 

If this stings a little, it would be an example of "Gave her my heart but she wanted my soul". You should think twice cuz... it's alright.:)

I get that, and I’m not broken up over it, 8 know that is how professional sports works, and money talks loudly and factors heavily in these decisions. Still, to me it is similar to overhearing your wife talk about how she would rather be with her high school sweetheart, but chose you because you were the safer, financially stable one. Yeah, you gave her your heart and she chose you, but really her heart is elsewhere. I  fully expect JD to be a professional, and it’s only baseball. Anyway, in the end, yes it’s alright.

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#19 bobs

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 09:21 AM

In 2022, the Sano/Donaldson combo mans 1B/DH


#20 Doctor Gast

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 09:23 AM

One thing that Matt mentioned & what I was wondering about was, Do Twins players, staff & or administration read TD? or does TD have some discussions w/ the Twins about what is discussed on the Forum? I`d appreciate a response