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The Twins Should Call the Astros If They Are Serious About Trading Josh Donaldson

Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski (USA TODAY Sports)

Josh Donaldson has made himself pretty comfortable with the Minnesota Twins. Every year, he gets a hefty paycheck, a spot in the middle of a strong lineup, and a corner locker in the clubhouse. But if he had to complain about some aspect of his job, it would have to be the eerie sound of Jose Miranda’s footsteps quickly approaching behind him.

In the last two seasons, Donaldson’s performance should quell most of the criticism that followed when the Twins initially signed him to a 4-year, $92 million contract. His bat remains lethal even as he enters his age-36 season. Donaldson hammers breaking pitches, as evident by his 91.6 average exit velocity on them since the start of 2020 (eighth-best in MLB). Better yet, he’s still catching up to the heavy heaters. He had a .696 slugging percentage on pitches 95 MPH or greater (third-best in MLB).

So why does it feel like we’re all getting ready to push him out the door?

Sure, an 89-loss season will dampen hopes. But the Bringer of Rain did his part in trying to keep the lineup fearsome. So much so, that I claimed it was too early to consider trading him in June. However, now that Miranda has fully emerged as a highly-touted prospect, and the Twins have a greater need for pitching at the big league level, it might be time to dangle the team’s most established hitter.

Donaldson doesn’t shy away from being loathed by his opponents. Could there be a more appropriate landing spot for him than the Houston Astros? Still the heel of the league because of their cheating scandal from 2017-19, they may want to bolster their lineup with another bonafide slugger while their window for contention is still open.

A trade with Houston hinges on one major change for the team – moving star third baseman Alex Bregman to the recently vacated shortstop position. The former All-Star recently stated that he would be open to making the switch if the team asked him to. He even went so far as to say that he can play it at an above-average level. If the Astros want to make another bang in the AL West, adding someone like Donaldson and moving Bregman to short could fit the bill.

Carlos Correa is still pacing the free-agent market, waiting for a well-deserved mega-contract. Therefore, Houston may want more certainty as they prepare to make another run. They currently project to have Jeremy Pena, their No. 4-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, as their primary shortstop. Though he has shown a plus glove and solid development of his offensive skill set, it’s hard to rely on a rookie who only has 30 games above the High-A level under his belt. Plus, Pena missed almost the entire 2021 season while recovering from wrist surgery. Giving him some more time to cook in the high minors might be preferable, with the Astros holding onto championship aspirations in 2022.

In this scenario, the Twins would seek a partner to take on some salary, but they could also take a loftier contract off Houston’s books. We’re talking about old friend Jake Odorizzi.

With Justin Verlander back in the rotation along with Lance McCullers Jr. Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy, Odorizzi finds himself and his $8.5 million contract on the outside looking in. He would present a significant upgrade in the Twins’ rotation, even if his numbers have fallen off since leaving Minnesota after the 2020 season. Steamer currently projects him to have a 4.22 ERA in 2022 with a healthy walk rate (2.7 BB/9). Odo noted multiple times how much he enjoyed his first stint in Minnesota, so a reunion with greater opportunity to start games could be a welcome development for him. If the Twins can help him reestablish his fastball at the top of the strike zone while fixing his cutter and slider, they could potentially unlock a solid No. 2 or 3 starter in their rotation.

There would need to be more added for this trade. A straight one-for-one swap with players and contracts of this caliber would be laughable. The Astros would undoubtedly want some help on the financial end, and the Twins would want another arm if they were to give up arguably their best hitter. With Donaldson being owed an average of $21 million for each of the next two seasons, the Twins could throw in roughly $10 million to bring him down to a salary that better reflects his projected performance. Adding a lower-level prospect could help get the deal across the finish line – someone like second baseman Spencer Steer.

Steer had a very encouraging season in 2021 while splitting time between High-A and Double-A, finishing the year with a combined .254/.348/.484 slash line with 24 home runs. Currently ranked the No. 23 prospect in the system, he would be enticing for the Astros and a palatable loss for the Twins. With so many players ahead of him on the depth chart, including Jorge Polanco, Luis Arraez, Nick Gordon, and possibly one or both of Royce Lewis and Austin Martin, Steer’s chances of contributing to the big league club appear remote.

In return, the Twins would get Odorizzi and veteran reliever Rafael Montero, who is headed into his final year of arbitration. While he would mostly be a throw-in based on his brutal year in 2021, Montero does two things that the Twins love: He throws hard and has a sharp slider. Maybe a change of scenery and some tinkering from Wes Johnson could get him back on track as a middle-inning reliever.

Yes, it’s a messy deal on paper. Neither team is desperate to make a move of this caliber. But the advantages are there for both sides. The Twins get a sorely needed fixture in their rotation and a project arm in the ‘pen while making space for Miranda’s eventual emergence. The Astros get a big bat for the middle of their lineup and a promising prospect who is blocked.

It’s a hasty deal. One that rustles the branches in the hopes that something shakes loose for both sides. But when the lockout eventually ends (*knock on wood*), the market will go through an all-out frenzy, and this is the kind of chaotic deal that could hit the ground.

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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski (USA TODAY Sports)

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