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Trading Josh Donaldson Is the Right Call


Playing out a lost season, the Minnesota Twins have two potential paths ahead of them: retool or rebuild. 

Whichever route they choose, one conclusion is inevitable: trading Josh Donaldson, and whatever portion of his remaining contract they can unload, makes strategic sense.

The Twins have apparently begun to explore Donaldson's trade market, with a report out of SNY last week suggesting "very preliminary talks" have taken place with the Mets. JD makes sense for a team like that: in the championship mix, and capable of benefiting from a brashly confident former MVP who's shown he can still play at a high level.

Donaldson's presence does little for the irrelevant 2021 Twins, so in assessing the sensibility of trading him to New York or elsewhere, the question becomes one of his future fit. Are the Twins doing themselves a great disservice by unloading Donaldson's 2022 and 2023 seasons – along with a 2024 team option – when all they're likely to get back is some level of salary relief and an unspectacular prospect or two?

I would suggest: no, probably not. Let us consider the two aforementioned scenarios. 

If the front office decides that its current collection of talent is fundamentally insufficient, and the next wave of prospects won't be ready quickly enough to fuel a return to championship contention within the next two years, then keeping Donaldson and his $21 million annual salary simply doesn't make sense, on any level. Not only is it an illogical expense, begrudged by ownership, but JD himself will likely become discontented by a non-competitive approach in what may be his final productive seasons.

So what if they choose instead to rebuild on the fly and make another go of it in 2022? I think this is the right approach, and the most likely one. Here it becomes a little harder to argue that the Twins are better off without Donaldson, who's been a high-quality player when on the field.

Nonetheless, three reasons I believe it's the right call:

Donaldson is at high risk for injury and regression.

I think we need to divorce ourselves from not only the idea of who Donaldson used to be – a 40-HR MVP-caliber superstar – and maybe even the image of Donaldson as he is now. Turning 36 in December, he's at a stage where rapid physical decline is commonplace, and that's evident enough from what we've witnessed on the field.

His offensive skills are mostly holding up – albeit not at the level of his late-20s prime – but Donaldson's defense has gone from great to good, and his speed from bad to "yikes." The injury issues, recurring and localized in his legs, seem unlikely to dissipate as he ages toward 40.

The nature of a long-term deal for a mid-30s player like Donaldson is that you expect to get the best value up-front, and deal with the likelihood of regression as a cost of doing business. The Twins have already moved past the ostensible good part of JD's contract, with fruitless results for the team. Now they're moving into a back end carrying more risk and less upside.

Granted, these facts are plainly evident to any suitor for Donaldson, which is why the Twins aren't exactly in a position of ideal leverage. But a team like the free-spending Mets is more well-suited to take on that risk and the associated financial commitment than Minnesota.

The Twins have depth at third base.

The indispensability of Donaldson is contingent on the quality of his potential replacements. When they signed him, third base was a position of clear organizational scarcity. Today, that's not quite so true.

First and foremost, you have the emergence of José Miranda as a top prospect. He raked in Double-A, he's now raking in Triple-A, and he's 23. Miranda is on the verge of big-league readiness and his contact-heavy profile lends itself to at least staying afloat in his early exposure to the majors, if not quickly taking off.

It wouldn't be a matter of putting all eggs in the meteoric Miranda's basket, either. Luis Arraez has played 250 career innings at third in the majors. Royce Lewis played primarily there in his last competitive baseball action during the 2019 Arizona Fall League. Miguel Sanó will still presumably be around next year. 

The Twins have options. And while none are Donaldson-caliber players, it's not entirely clear that any would be all that drastic a drop-off from the version you're getting at ages 36 and 37, to whatever extent his health makes him available.

The Twins have bigger priorities and JD at third base was always a luxury.

The Twins never needed Josh Donaldson. They signed him late in the 2019-20 offseason because they had spending flexibility, missed out on their free agent pitching targets, and saw an opportunity to level-up an already great offense. He was a luxury they could afford at the time, but much has changed since, and now you really wonder if he's one they can still afford. 

Even without Donaldson and Nelson Cruz, the Twins would be poised to field a solid offensive unit next year. The pitching staff is another story. They're going to need all the help and resources they can get. While no other team is going to take on the entirety of Donaldson's remaining ~$60 million commitment, any fraction of that spending flexibility will be useful to the front office as it addresses a needy rotation and bullpen, not to mention shortstop. 

In the event he's traded, whatever the Twins are able to get back in exchange for Donaldson is going to look underwhelming on its face. It won't be a fun situation to navigate from a PR perspective. But when you look at the realities of a team that currently figures to have about $40 million in hand for the offseason, the logic of trading Donaldson is difficult to deny. They're staring down a wealth of key vacancies and he's a risk-laden expensive veteran. 

The Twins have their work cut out if they want to turn around a last-place team and bring it back to respectability, much less World Series contention, in short order. Popularity can't be the guiding principle in the difficult decisions that lie ahead. 

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Well argued Nick and spot on IMO.

I like Donaldson and have for a long, long time.  (I LOVED that deal for Toronto way back in the olden days)  Reality about injuries has to be part of planning your team and it's future and the combo of JD's age and his injuries since arriving are just too much to ignore.

If you can free up room to add pitching, while adding some talent for him....you simply have to do it.  It's a shame that signing didn't deliver what they thought it would, but you can let that romantic sunk cost decide your future.

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I'm not a huge fan of Donaldson and I didn't like the signing when the Twins made it. I still don't like the signing and agree the Twins would be better off if they could trade Donaldson, keeping in mind there is a 5 team NTC.

I don't know as the Twins could find a taker for Donaldson right now, though. Not without paying a big portion of the contract, but he is tearing the cover off the ball recently. Another couple weeks of hot production could be enough to tempt another team into taking a big majority of Donaldson's contract on.

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I much as it pains to agree------I liked the signing of JD and have been an ardent supporter of his-------these arguments offer well reasoned and intelligent facts of why looking to trade him is in the short and long term interests of this franchise.

I know my numbers may be off, but I think JD is owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $51m over the next 2 seasons. I can't believe even the #1 fan of JD would be against a trade that brought legit prospects AND would result in the Twins NOT kicking in money to sweeten the deal.

Right now...today......I think the likelihood of trade is maybe 40%.  That number is strongly based on the fact that he's not played the last 3 games and has missed a plethora of games the last 2 seasons due to hamstring & calf injuries.

If Donaldson get back into lineup THIS week--stay healthy and show production and that same scenario repeats itself for the first 10days after the ASB, I'd argue the likelihood of finding his being traded increases to 70%.  Saying that, I'd suggest that the Twins will be asked to assume around $20mill of that guaranteed $$ to make any trade happen.

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Trading Donaldson is the right move IF the savings are used to re-sign Berrios and/or sign strong starting pitching of of the free agent market. If the Twins will do that, the return is almost irrelevant ; it's the salary relief that helps the most. My thinking to trade Donaldson and use every dollar saved to re-sign Berrios.   

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Once again the often repeated mantra of use the money to extend (or resign) Berrios.  He's going to test the free agency market.  No doubt about it.  Signing anyone takes two sides to agree and with Berrios (and probably Buxton also) there is only one side that wants to sign before free agency - the front office.  Ain't going to happen kiddies!  Get used to it!

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I'm not against trading Donaldson.  In many aspects, as pointed out in the post, it makes a lot of sense.  I disagree with the notion that he can be replaced though.  I don't feel that he is a luxury either.  The FO made a concerted effort to upgrade the infield defense.  He was part of that.  He may not have been the primary target, and I've never been crazy about the signing, but he's a pretty good pivot move. 

I think moving Sano back to 3B or playing Arraez there regularly is a rather large regression.  One can hope that Miranda can fit that bill sooner rather than later, but I'd like to see more than just a two month white hot streak before I depend on him.  These are fine for a short term answer for the rest of the season, but I'm leery about the long-term outside of Miranda.  None of this is really the point though and the benefits of dealing Donaldson probably outweigh them.

Any salary relief must be reinvested.  I'm not one that feels that it'll be a difference maker in bring back Berrios or Buxton, but it certainly can't hurt.  Regardless, they've got a mess of a pitching staff that also needs to be dealt with this offseason.  So, if they can unload him and get some salary relief and maybe some lottery tickets too, then that's the correct call.  I can deal with the short term question marks.

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The Donaldson signing was a question mark from day 1 , mainly due to his injury history.  But the fact is , when healthy he is really the only good 3b option on the roster.  Arraez keeps proving he is not a very good option. Sano as an option, really??? Don’t know much about Miranda’s defense, but my hunch is that the Twins do not consider him a 3rd baseman.  The signing maybe hasn’t worked as planned, but trading him for nothing and still paying him 10 million + to play for someone else doesn’t sound like a great idea.

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All good points made by Nick, but I think he is missing one significant point, which is, what is the plan for Nelson Cruz next season? Assuming Cruz is not a Twin (though at this point, why not offer him a 5 year extension, the man is ageless), JD could slot into the DH role more regularly to try to keep him more available. Going into next season expecting a combination of Sano/Kepler/??? to take 650 plate appearances as DH is going to be a more significant production decline than JD to the 3B depth outlined in the article.

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Agreed. And yeah, signing Donaldson and then immediately getting hit in the face with an extremely abbreviated 2020 "season" was about the worst thing that could have happened to the Twins. The Covid 19 pandemic screwed most teams, but the Twins may have got bit worst of all with the Donaldson deal. Couldn't have gone worse, frankly. Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers could shrug it off, but not a team with fewer resources. 2020 was the year that Donaldson was supposed to provide the most value, followed by 2021. And now poof, they're gone and the Twins got zero zip nada.

As for Donaldson, I do like him as a player. I think his fire and attitude is needed - and by the way, isn't that what everyone wanted when the Donaldson rumors started? Everyone on this board wanted the Twins to sign JD in the winter of 2019 for that very reason! I find it odd to see people now commenting to complain about his demeanor. We all knew this going in and nobody had a problem with it. He is what we thought he is. And frankly, on a good team, having a guy like that is a plus.

I like the fact that he smashed two 1st inning HRs against the Sox in Chicago last week, and trash talked all the way around the bases. Yelled at Giolitto in the parking lot. The Twins were playing better and on a bit of a streak - what more could you ask for to start the games in CHI? Hell yeah Josh, go get 'em! The fact that the Twins folded in those games isn't a reflection on Donaldson.

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There's some good wisdom in the original post and in the comments (on both sides), but on the comments about health, it's worth noting that he's on pace for 125-130 games, is tied for third on the team in games played, and third in plate appearances. That's a reflection of injuries to others, sure, but I think 125-130 games is about what the Twins expected for a 35-year-old 3B on a team that values days off. His OPS+ is also 133, which isn't something you replace easily.

I'd also disagree that his presence means nothing for the 2021 team. If you mean that his presence isn't going to get the team to the playoffs, sure. But his presence also means allowing them to not play Arraez or Sano out of position every day. To those who want a team/manager with "more fire," what other players on the team are going to lead that way? From all I've read, he's a teacher of others, etc.

Listen to offers, yeah, because that's what you do with everyone, but I'm not too eager to create holes for this year and the future in order to maybe sorta get something that might help down the road. 

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Nick, you have presented a persuasive argument but as I posited in my blog:  http://Going Forward - Retool or Rebuild?, I look at a Donaldson trade this year as a nail in the coffin for a retool rather than a rebuild.  First, the Twins do not have a replacement for him at 3B.  Arraez doesn't have the arm for the position, Miranda is promising but it's a long jump to filling JD's shoes next year, and Sano's time as a Twin looks over.  Second, assuming Cruz is traded by July 31st, the loss of both these guys would leave a massive hole in our 2022 lineup.  I like Kirillof and Larnach but sophomore slumps are just too frequent in this game(look at Jeffers) and, other than Buxton, there are no all stars on this team that could be expected to lead the offense next year.

Of course, if someone offered a top pitching prospect for Josh, we should jump at it, but how likely is that to occur unless we throw in a big dollar contribution?   And if so, what does that do to our ability to retain Berrios, Buxton, and Rogers or sign one of the premier FA SSs on the market this offseason?  If there was some acknowledgment by ownership that the purse strings will be loosened to accomplish a successful retooling next year, life would be much simpler.  But looking at past history and the inability of this FO to find quality nuggets in the discard basket, my bet going forward is an unsuccessful retooling effort followed by years of a rebuild.

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I don't feel as good about the depth at the 5 beyond Donaldson.  Sure - Arraez can play there, and maybe we have someone almost ready in the minors - but I'm hoping for a reload, not a rebuild - so while I do want to move him for pitching, I don't feel as good about a reload without someone ready to go at 3B.  My first gut is saying move Sano back there as we'll likely be unable to move him and Sano is probably as good as Arraez isn't he at that position?

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9 hours ago, terrydactyls said:

Once again the often repeated mantra of use the money to extend (or resign) Berrios.  He's going to test the free agency market.  No doubt about it.  Signing anyone takes two sides to agree and with Berrios (and probably Buxton also) there is only one side that wants to sign before free agency - the front office.  Ain't going to happen kiddies!  Get used to it!

I am in your camp.  Berrios is the type of player where money isn't all he wants. He wants to play on a team that is a contender.  He doesn't want to waste his prime years with this organization.  Buxton is also probably looking for brighter lights.  Plus the fact they pulled the stunt a few years ago to a save year of paying him.   I think their agent knows exactly who wants them and where they want to go.  I would not make a deal with the Yankees because they obviously can see talent and unload crap (Hicks and the flash in the pan catcher can't even remember his name trade).   I hope they can let them go this year, maybe get something in return and get them out of this depressing mess.  

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1 hour ago, Vanimal46 said:

There should be no mystery why top free agents don’t want to sign here. We are turning our backs on the highest paid FA ever for no reason at all. 

"No reason at all" doesn't feel remotely fair or realistic.  I can understand not wanting to move him, but there are plainly obvious reasons it would be prudent.

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45 minutes ago, strumdatjag said:

Read today’s Souhan Column in the STRIB.   He takes the position that the Twins should retain Donaldson, because nobody else can fire up and push the rest of this group of “too nice” players. 

If Souhan thinks the Twins really need to keep JD, my reaction is that means the Twins really need to get rid of JD.

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29 minutes ago, TheLeviathan said:

"No reason at all" doesn't feel remotely fair or realistic.  I can understand not wanting to move him, but there are plainly obvious reasons it would be prudent.

Nothing that has surfaced in the past week to justify the dislike for him all of a sudden. As @IndianaTwinpointed out, he’s on pace for over 120 games played this year. So I don’t buy the injury risk being much greater now than 1.5 years ago.
 

The “depth” are prospects who won’t be ready by opening day 2022, or current players out of position. I don’t understand the desire of blowing up the offense when our pitching staff has been the problem all along. 

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Trading Donaldson is fine as long as the Twins don't use it to justify keeping Sano around.  We all have dreams that someone new would man 3rd base, but we have to be prepared for Sano going back over there full time.  

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3 minutes ago, Vanimal46 said:

Nothing that has surfaced in the past week to justify the dislike for him all of a sudden. As @IndianaTwinpointed out, he’s on pace for over 120 games played this year. So I don’t buy the injury risk being much greater now than 1.5 years ago.
 

The “depth” are prospects who won’t be ready by opening day 2022, or current players out of position. I don’t understand the desire of blowing up the offense when our pitching staff has been the problem all along. 

Well... I guess I'm confused.  Why do you have to dislike him to see the prudence in trading him?  I love JD as a player and as a signing.  I love Byron Buxton as a person and a player.  Making decisions about the team shouldn't include those considerations if moving them is better for the team.  This article is about being a GM, not a fanboy.

Players age and with age comes increased issues with durability and health.  And, yes, he continues to be a health liability just like when we acquired him.  (the year in Atlanta off of which we signed him appears to be something of a health fluke)  

I make no argument we will be downgrading the position to some degree by trading him.  Though, given his health issues and the available options, perhaps not as much as some would like to think.

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15 minutes ago, Vanimal46 said:

Nothing that has surfaced in the past week to justify the dislike for him all of a sudden. As @IndianaTwinpointed out, he’s on pace for over 120 games played this year. So I don’t buy the injury risk being much greater now than 1.5 years ago.
 

The “depth” are prospects who won’t be ready by opening day 2022, or current players out of position. I don’t understand the desire of blowing up the offense when our pitching staff has been the problem all along. 

In fairness, I don't think this discussion revolves around the recent disdain.  It should/would be happening regardless of recent events.  He's an asset that can be traded and potentially help other areas.

I tend to agree with your overall point though.  The lack of solid option at 3B is a problem for me too.  There's potential it could be more problematic than intended.  

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Donaldson may or may not be tradeable because of his contract and injury concerns, but I would wait until the off-season to look into trading him. He is currently sidelined with a nagging injury and that will be fresh on teams minds when discussing returns. 

What I would look into doing is something like this; Trade Simmons, he is a plus defender and should bring a decent prospect. An infield of Kirilloff, Arraez, Polanco and Donaldson would be in place for the rest of the year. IF Miranda continues his hot AAA start, bring him up to be the utility guy, he has played all infield positions in the minors this year. Keep Gordon up as another utility guy, he has played passable defense at 2B & CF. A Cruz trade or Sano trade/release are subjects for another topic.

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28 minutes ago, Dodecahedron said:

Trading Donaldson is fine as long as the Twins don't use it to justify keeping Sano around.  We all have dreams that someone new would man 3rd base, but we have to be prepared for Sano going back over there full time.  

That's fine in the short term, though I wouldn't like it either.  Most definitely NOT for the long term.  

I do wonder what his playing time would look like if the team were healthier, but that's a topic for a different thread.

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31 minutes ago, TheLeviathan said:

Well... I guess I'm confused.  Why do you have to dislike him to see the prudence in trading him?  I love JD as a player and as a signing.  I love Byron Buxton as a person and a player.  Making decisions about the team shouldn't include those considerations if moving them is better for the team.  This article is about being a GM, not a fanboy.

Players age and with age comes increased issues with durability and health.  And, yes, he continues to be a health liability just like when we acquired him.  (the year in Atlanta off of which we signed him appears to be something of a health fluke)  

I make no argument we will be downgrading the position to some degree by trading him.  Though, given his health issues and the available options, perhaps not as much as some would like to think.

Perhaps it’s simply coincidence that ever since the Giolito incident, articles have been written about him being the least liked person on the team and now is the time to trade him. To me, it looks like we’ve turned on him quickly. He’s still producing, and if he transitions to a DH/3B role, who’s to say he won’t play in more games? 

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40 minutes ago, Vanimal46 said:

Perhaps it’s simply coincidence that ever since the Giolito incident, articles have been written about him being the least liked person on the team and now is the time to trade him. To me, it looks like we’ve turned on him quickly. He’s still producing, and if he transitions to a DH/3B role, who’s to say he won’t play in more games? 

We who? Do we think any players really care what is said on this message board? I don't. I find his antics entertaining, so it 100% isn't about that for me.....

I'd trade him to free up money to hopefully keep Buxton and/ or sign a pitcher or SS. They don't have a SS next year at all, and I think they can cobble together 3B easier than SS.

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