By snapping one of those trends last week, Minnesota took a huge step toward ending the other.Much has of course been written about the baseball impact of signing Josh Donaldson. A few samplings to check out if you haven't yet:
- Josh Donaldson, Bringer of Rings by Matthew Trueblood
- Five Things Josh Donaldson Does Better Than Any of His New Teammates by Matthew Taylor
- Devil's Advocate: Why the Josh Donaldson Deal Isn't Good for the Twins by Matthew Lenz
- With Donaldson in the Fold, Can the Twins Afford to Wait Until the Deadline to Trade for Starting Pitching? by Nash Walker
Over the years, fans have heard so many times that the Twins were "interested in" a top prize that landed elsewhere, or "made a strong offer" that came up short, or "didn't see a fit" for an expensive player who assuredly would've fit... It's understandable how so many came to feel jaded. Add in the history of trade deadline malaise, and the front office has earned its skepticism.
However, it bears emphasizing: This ain't the same front office. I do think much of the "Twins are cheap" sentiment is engrained from an era where that claim was undeniably true; in the 2000s Terry Ryan would reliably sign no-upside bargain-bin players like Rondell White and Sidney Ponson to fill key holes on contending teams.
The new regime, seemingly empowered from the start to bump spending upward, has proven far more willing to play in the medium-deep waters of free agency, with signings like Nelson Cruz ($24M), Jason Castro, ($24M), Marwin Gonzalez ($18M), and Addison Reed ($16M). Now, they've taken a dive into the deep end.
This was a long time coming. Even in their more aggressive state, the Twins had continually come up short on the big fish – an angling pattern that carried over into this offseason, where they were unable to secure their top target in Zack Wheeler. As more pitching names came off the board, a familiar feeling began to set in, especially once reports arose that Minnesota had grown "pessimistic" in its pursuit of Donaldson, the last hope for a noteworthy FA addition.
About a week later, the historic deal was done. What happened?
The Twins were patient. They made an offer they felt was legit, and then they stood their ground, even as Donaldson and his agent (understandably) tried to leverage Minnesota's bid against the Braves and others. When reports emerged that the free agent would sign on the spot if someone reached his desired threshold ($110 million), the Twins didn't bite. In fact, they took a stand, by signaling via their own media transmissions that they were out on the posturing game. Despite their patience, however...
The Twins were persistent. They never gave up. A story by Phil Miller in the Star Tribune details the team's recruiting efforts, which included a pitch from Rocco Baldelli, assurances from the front office about their commitment to winning, a video overture from Miguel Sano, and plenty of lobbying from Twins fan/golf star Mardy Fish. Eventually, the Twins also made a key improvement to their offer; according to Miller's piece, it was the addition of a fifth-year option with an $8 million buyout that jump-started talks and built momentum to close. Minnesota took that step because, at the end of the day...
The Twins were serious. They wanted to spend that money. They wanted to make a splash. It wasn't all talk. But the front office wasn't going to spend it indiscriminately, and the relative value propositions (plus generally unfavorable circumstances) steered them away from the pitching market.
After all the offseason near-misses and no-thankses, this time the Twins wouldn't be denied. While I'm sure all the aforementioned pitches and perks helped to lure Donaldson, he makes no secret of what swayed him: money.
"Ultimately the financials were where they needed to be for my agent and my family and everybody to feel very happy with it," Donaldson said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. He added in an interview with Atlanta's WSB-TV that other offers were "not in the same realm."
It is refreshing and almost surreal to hear those quotes about a free agent showdown that the Twins actually WON, isn't it? For them to be throwing around their weight in pursuit of a coveted, elite talent – who was also chased by a regional favorite and the defending champions – completely shatters a long-running narrative.
Now, this doesn't erase the team's history, but it's hopefully another signal of the new reality: The Twins are ready to be definitive players in the American League. With the contention window flung open, they're moving to "put their foot on someone's throat," as GM Thad Levine put it.
The front office convinced Donaldson of this, and by successfully doing so, they're convincing me and fellow followers of the club. The impacts of this new acquisition on the Twins lineup and on their infield defense are immense, but we shouldn't overlook its corresponding impact on fan morale and confidence.
This is a game-changer.
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