'I enjoy winning': Donaldson ready to boost Twins

January 23rd, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- There was a different buzz about the press conference room nestled in the service level of Target Field on Wednesday as president of baseball operations Derek Falvey's self-described "Twins family" gathered en masse to welcome as its newest member.

Make that the whole extended family, from scouting director Sean Johnson, general manager Thad Levine and several community relations staffers seated in the rear, to pitching guru Josh Kalk and even rookie left-hander Lewis Thorpe in the front row. The room was so packed that team president Dave St. Peter and owner Jim Pohlad couldn't find seats as the Twins officially announced the signing of Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million deal, the largest commitment to a free agent in club history.

"We talk about the Twins family quite a bit," Falvey said. "When you sign a player or you bring anyone in, whether it's a front office member, someone we hire in our group, a player, a coach, you become a part of the Twins family. To Josh's mother, Lisa, and to his girlfriend, Briana, I want to say welcome. Welcome to the Twins family. Along with Josh, you come right along with it, and you're part of our family here going forward."

"That amount of commitment, for my family, my friends, my agency, how much that means to us is ... I can’t express those words," Donaldson said in his No. 24 jersey. "It's very difficult to do that, just because it’s so meaningful. This is what I've worked my entire life for, ever since I was five years old, and there’s a lot of sacrifices that have been made. And, you know, that I’m continuing to make to this day. It doesn’t stop."

Donaldson found Minnesota to be an appealing destination, he said, in part because he admired the talent, exuberance and love among the team from afar as a visiting player, which complemented his familiarity with the American League Central and his career-long success at Target Field (1.283 OPS, 10 homers in 22 games). Early in the process, he instructed his agent, Dan Lozano, to contact the Twins and make it clear that he could see himself fitting in Minnesota.

For their part, the Twins coveted Donaldson for the power bat responsible for 209 homers and the second-highest WAR in the Majors since 2013 (behind only Mike Trout), an offensive force who could push the already-robust Bomba Squad over the top. The glove also helps, as Donaldson was worth plus-8 outs above average at the hot corner last season, third-most among MLB third basemen.

And as discussions progressed between the two sides throughout the winter, the 34-year-old Donaldson asserted that he hoped to build an impact with his new team that extended beyond his on-field contributions.

"The message I tried to get across to them was, 'Look, I don’t want to just impact your team on the field. I want to impact the entire organization,'" Donaldson said. "This could possibly be my final contract at some point, and I want to leave an imprint on this organization for whenever I am finished playing."

With that in mind, the Twins were prepared to make the commitment to Donaldson with not just their immediate on-field product in mind, but also for the influence that he can have on the homegrown core of the club that is soon to be bolstered by additional top prospects like Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Brusdar Graterol, Trevor Larnach, Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran.

"I think he views that by playing here, much in the way that Nelson Cruz has demonstrated, that he can make us better for years to come just by demonstrating the way to be a professional player, the way to approach an at-bat, the way to get ready for a season," St. Peter said. "I think that's another really powerful way that he can impact the organization as a whole."

Finally, it should come as no surprise that Donaldson wanted to have an important role on a winning team with which to play out the latter half of his 30s.

Coming off playoff appearances in seven of his past eight seasons with the Athletics, Blue Jays, Indians and Braves, Donaldson saw a young team in Minnesota that has the talent to win but will need to manage high expectations and pressure for the first time. He saw his personality and his experience with adversity throughout his career as good fits in that context.

"Throughout my career, I have experienced a lot of different things that a lot of guys haven't experienced," Donaldson said. "I’ve been the worst player in the big leagues. I know what it's like. I know what it is like to get sent down four or five times. I know what it’s like to have family calling you and asking you about this, that and what's going on."

Could Donaldson be the piece that pushes the Twins to finally snap their record 16-game losing streak in the postseason, including 13 straight to the Yankees? He wouldn't be trudging through the snow at Target Field, possibly his final home in the big leagues, if he didn't think so.

"I enjoy winning," Donaldson said. "I think over my entire career, I’ve been pretty successful at doing that and establishing an environment that’s successful for winning, and ultimately it comes down to competing. I’ve enjoyed competing ever since I was a very small child. The other end of that is I don’t enjoy losing."

"He had choices in the free-agent market, as you would expect for a player of his caliber, and he chose to come here to Minnesota to be a part of this organization," Falvey said.