Twins

What Do the Twins Do With Josh Donaldson?

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY Sports)

Across the state of Minnesota this summer, droughts have plagued the land around the state. It’s been a bit symbolic as well for Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson. The Bringer of Rain has been experiencing some dry weather early this year. The cause of this dry spell? Trips to the injured list early in the season.

In the first two months of the campaign, Donaldson slashed .241/.339/.418 with a .328 wOBA and a .252 BABIP in 164 plate appearances. The signing that had Twins fans ready to hang American League pennant banners in January of 2020 was starting to look like a free-agent bust.

But then the floodgates opened, and the Bringer of Rain created a monsoon once he could log more at-bats later in the season. The slugger has launched 16 home runs in his last 60 games and is third on the team with 21 home runs. Since the All-Star break, the righty has been playing his best baseball in a Twins uniform, hitting .270/.375/.487 with a .369 wOBA and a .316 BABIP over his last 136 plate appearances.

He has staved off injury lately (knocking profusely on wood here), and now Donaldson has worked his way up to fourth on the Twins with 348 at-bats so far this season. That’s better than other core players like Max Kepler and Luis Arráez. Donaldson has slashed .256/.359/.483 collectively this season with a .358 wOBA and a .278 BABIP.

There was a lot of pressure on Donaldson to produce this year. He signed a $92 million deal he signed in 2020, and that he missed most of the pandemic-shortened season with hamstring issues. But even though he hasn’t matched his MVP-level years or even his resurgent 2019 season with the Atlanta Braves, he still has been worth the contract.

However, the Twins now sit at the bottom of the AL Central and already dealt their best pitcher for prospects. Donaldson’s hot stretch makes fans look back and wonder if he would even still be with the team had he been playing like this before the trade deadline?

So what do the Twins do with an aging slugger like Donaldson? Do they trade him for prospects in the offseason or keep him around for the inevitable rebuild?

Donaldson has $51.5 million left on his contract, excluding the 2024 team option but including the $8 million buyout of said option. According to FanGraphs, Donaldson’s value amounts to just over $15 million. Did the Twins overpay for Donaldson? Yes. But that was expected when he signed the contract. Regardless of his injury history, the 35-year-old is still producing at an above-average level.

The Twins front office likely didn’t think they’d be in this predicament halfway through his deal. But it is a good problem for the Twins because if they keep the slugger, they have a quality veteran leader once the next wave of prospects arrives in the majors. On the other hand, his services would demand more prospects for the team’s current reload, especially because Minnesota will have to eat some of Donaldson’s remaining salary.

But whatever the team does, it gives the front office more flexibility to build the roster the way they want to with a fresh core of young prospects on the verge of reaching the majors. It’s been a steady mix of the Twins’ top prospects, including Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach, who have already gotten a taste of big-league action. What makes the decision on Donaldson even more intriguing is that there have also been some pleasant surprises in the prospect pool that have popped up across the river in St. Paul, most notably Jose Miranda.

Miranda has been having one of the best seasons in the entire Twins minor leagues and has been the talk of the farm system. He burst onto the scene with a three-home run game in his first appearance at CHS Field. Since his call up to Triple-A, The infielder has slashed an impressive .329/.388/.558 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in 54 games for the St. Paul Saints.

The Twins have been hesitant to call up the 2016 second-rounder. They could be waiting for September call-ups or just waiting until next season to maximize Miranda’s service time and give him consistent big-league at-bats. Miranda has spent most of his time in Triple-A at third base this season: He has made 25 starts at third, 12 at second base, and 11 at first. But with the latter two positions already solidified for the future, Miranda’s major league home looks to be at third base for now.

Donaldson could be moved during the winter and pave the way for Miranda to become the Twins’ everyday third baseman next year, but that assumption could be a risky one for the Twins. On the one hand, you have a young prospect who’s earned a shot to play in the major leagues. But if he falters, there isn’t a solid backup plan between Arráez and Willians Astudillo, who are limited defensively at the hot corner.

There could also be a way for the two third basemen to co-exist on the Twins. Donaldson could still play every day and be the starting third baseman, but he would slide into the designated hitter role every other day and allow Miranda to see more big-league at-bats. This would allow manager Rocco Baldelli to ride the hot hand, filling out his lineup card with whoever is playing better. The move would also help in the field. Donaldson’s defense is beginning to take a step back, with his UZR falling to a career-low minus-4.2 so far this year.

The decision to keep or trade Donaldson will be a focus of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine’s this winter. Trading the former MVP would be a big blow to the team’s aspirations of competing in 2022, but it could open the door for prospects like Miranda to crack the big league roster and see if his prowess at the plate can continue up at the big leagues. Time will tell if the Twins can find the right trade partner to pull it off or if they stand pat and see if Donaldson can drench Target Field again next year.

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