Bryce Harper has the best hair on the open market this winter, but Josh Donaldson may not be far behind. The oft-injured third basemen is a free agent and coincidentally plays a position that the Minnesota Twins could be looking to rectify. Joe Mauer should provide clarity to the club soon, and that could leave Miguel Sano with an opportunity to swap sides on the diamond. Transitioning from the division-rival Indians, Donaldson could be an answer to the Twins questions.
When the 2019 season gets underway the former Oakland and Toronto third basemen will be 33 years old. He's got just shy of 900 big league games under his belt, and has eight years of MLB service to his credit. Talent is undeniable when looking at what Donaldson possesses, but he's also played in just 165 games across the past two seasons.
Last season the Donaldson made $23 million in the final year of arbitration eligibility. He enters the market at an odd time, looking for a long term payday but also having to calm fears of recent injury concerns and the reality of being an aging commodity. While a one-year deal may be more team friendly this is probably his last chance to get paid, and some level of stability will be hard to pass up.
From a dollars and cents standpoint, something like three years and $75 million seems like fair market value. Donaldson would be 36 at the end of that deal, and $25 million is a steal for a guy that has owned a .931 OPS dating back to 2015. There's obviously the risk that injuries derail things from the get go, but he played in 16 games down the stretch for Cleveland and was healthy enough to act as an impact bat in the Postseason.
The Minnesota Twins have to decide how they are going to handle both their corner and middle infield spots during the first year under Rocco Baldelli. Manny Machado is a perfect fit solely from a positional standpoint, but in that same vein, so to is Donaldson. The latter comes in at a far lower price point, and given the spending flexibility, is still well within the realm of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine's reach.
At his absolute best Miguel Sano is probably a league average defender at third base. Moving over to first puts him in a spot where defense is less of an issue, but also allows him the opportunity to take strides forward at a less demanding position. In Donaldson an acquiring team is getting a player that has never posted a negative defensive season in terms of DRS. With over 7,000 innings to his credit he owns a 53 DRS total and has a combined 30.3 UZR. Although he's never been rewarded with a Gold Glove, the leather is plenty strong with this one.
If there's another avenue that Donaldson plays up for the Twins, it's a middle-of-the-order bat that checks off every box. Not only is he a real power threat, having hit 29 or more home runs in each full season since 2014, but he's not a strikeout machine either. On-base threats are something Minnesota's lineup could use, and his .383 mark since 2015 is beyond impressive. Allowing Sano to see that kind of production, and likely learn from it, could pay dividends in more ways than one.
The reality is that when dealing with free agents the marriage has to be an ideal fit for both sides. No matter how much money the Twins could throw at the likes of Manny Machado, there's plenty of other big hurdles to overcome. Going into contract talks with Donaldson hoping for a one-year pact may be enticing for the Twins, but it probably doesn't move the needle or position them well amongst competing markets. Should the front office push their chips forward and believe the injury issues are behind him, this could be the opportunity to land a superstar talent through a perfect storm.
Pairing the likes of Donaldson with a lineup that includes Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton should be mouth-watering for Twins Territorians. You're never going to avoid risk when ponying up this level of cash, but being able to make a move like this doesn't often present itself so perfectly to organizations like the Twins. Whether Mauer returns or not, Donaldson fits and the iron is hot.