Donaldson arrival gives Twins extra swagger entering spring
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins were squarely focused a year ago on the development of young players and the integration of a new coaching staff, confident in their foundation but not ready to declare themselves contenders.
This time, as the start of spring training approaches, they are all in on the pursuit of a World Series. They're bringing a little bit more swagger to camp than before, emboldened by their 101-win breakthrough and the addition of third baseman Josh Donaldson.
“We really did a thorough investigation of every organization that was out there, and we wanted to weigh the options — pros, cons, everything,” Donaldson said at his introduction following the four-year, $92 million contract he signed that comes with a club option for 2024 that would boost the total cost of the deal to nine figures. “We felt this is the best place for me to be — and for me to be able to come out and help this organization win.”
The big-swinging, slick-fielding Donaldson, who was the 2015 American League MVP with Toronto, made a deep, powerful lineup even stronger. The Twins set the major league record last season with 307 home runs, and Donaldson went deep 37 times in 2019 for Atlanta.
“I believe that there’s a really small subset of the truly impactful guys in any cycle in an offseason,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “Josh is one of them.”
If fans needed further proof the front office was willing to be aggressive to win a championship the franchise hasn't held for 29 years, the Twins reached an agreement with Boston and Los Angeles this week on a pending trade that, if completed, would land Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda for the middle of the rotation and send hard-throwing 21-year-old Brusdar Graterol to the Red Sox.
The first official pitchers and catchers workout in Fort Myers, Florida, is set for Wednesday, with the first full-squad workout following on Feb. 17. The first exhibition game at Hammond Stadium is Feb. 21 against the University of Minnesota.
Donaldson's arrival at the opposite corner will move Miguel Sanó to first base, where his long-term future always figured to be. After letting first baseman C.J. Cron and second baseman Jonathan Schoop leave as free agents, Luis Arraez will become a full-timer at second after batting .334 in 92 games as a rookie. Alex Avila is the new backup catcher, behind budding star Mitch Garver.
The pitching staff underwent a more significant shuffle, with veterans Homer Bailey and Rich Hill signed as replacements in the rotation for departed free agents Kyle Gibson and Martín Pérez. Tyler Clippard and Matt Wisler were picked up for the bullpen.
The infield, with Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza in multi-positional backup roles, ought to be as sturdy as ever. The top of the rotation features a pair of All-Stars, José Berríos and Jake Odorizzi, and the back of the bullpen now has Clippard in the mix with Tyler Duffey, Trevor May and Sergio Romo as setup men for closer Taylor Rogers.
If center fielder Byron Buxton is healthy, the outfield would be another clear position of strength, but that's been one of the biggest ifs for the Twins in recent years. This time, one of the game's best defensive players and baserunners is coming off major shoulder surgery.
Hill won't be ready to pitch until around the All-Star break following elbow surgery, and Michael Pineda has the rest of his suspension to serve until he's eligible for action in mid-May. That probably means some early-season innings for the rotation will have to go to a prospect like Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer or Lewis Thorpe. Jhoulys Chacin, one of nine non-roster invitees with major league experience, will also get a long look for a starting role.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
The 61-player list the Twins are set to start spring training includes four of the organization's top position-player prospects: shortstop Royce Lewis and outfielders Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach and Brent Rooker. Kirillof, Lewis and Larnach were their first-round draft picks in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The Twins have always had several notable former players as guest instructors for a portion of camp, and they have nine alumni on the list this year: Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Michael Cuddyer, LaTroy Hawkins, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, Tony Oliva and Johan Santana.
The regular season opener is March 26 at Oakland, starting a seven-game road trip. The Twins host the Athletics on April 2 in their home opener at Target Field.