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How Donaldson affects Twins in '20 and beyond

@dohyoungpark
January 14, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Josh Donaldson has agreed to a four-year, $92 million contract with the Twins, sources told MLB.com on Tuesday, finally giving the club the impact addition it sought all offseason after it surprised the baseball world with an American League Central title in 2019. No, Donaldson isn't a starting

MINNEAPOLIS -- Josh Donaldson has agreed to a four-year, $92 million contract with the Twins, sources told MLB.com on Tuesday, finally giving the club the impact addition it sought all offseason after it surprised the baseball world with an American League Central title in 2019.

No, Donaldson isn't a starting pitcher whom the Twins could still use to help anchor a possible postseason run. But after the Twins couldn't land one of the top available arms to aid in run prevention, they instead bolstered their already robust lineup by adding Donaldson, the top remaining bat on the free-agent market, to a lineup that hit a Major League-record 307 homers last season.

Let's take a closer look at how this major move could affect the Twins' plans moving forward.

How could the Twins' lineup look?

Let's get this out of the way first. Behold:

1) Jorge Polanco, SS
2) Josh Donaldson, 3B
3) Nelson Cruz, DH
4) Miguel Sanó, 1B
5) Max Kepler, RF
6) Mitch Garver, C
7) Luis Arraez, 2B
8) Eddio Rosario, LF
9) Byron Buxton, CF

Garver could also lead off against left-handed starters as he did last season, which could bump Polanco down the lineup on those days. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli noted last spring that Polanco was also a strong candidate to lead off before Kepler earned the role, and he could be a nice fit at the top of this lineup due to his strong at-bats, his ability to get on base and his elite speed.

And don't forget about Marwin Gonzalez, who will come off the bench to play multiple positions.

How will Minnesota's defense accommodate Donaldson?

Donaldson should slide in at the hot corner and likely move Sanó to first base. One underappreciated aspect of what Donaldson will bring to the Twins is that he will offer a much-needed defensive boost in the infield, as he was worth eight Outs Above Average last season, per Statcast, which ranked third among Major League third basemen behind only the two Gold Glove Award winners -- Colorado's Nolan Arenado (17) and Oakland's Matt Chapman (14).

In contrast, Sanó was worth minus-three OAA, and the Twins as a whole accumulated zero OAA at third base last season, while Polanco graded out as the worst defensive shortstop in MLB with minus-16 OAA. Polanco was weakest (minus-nine OAA) on plays ranging in toward home plate, but Donaldson could help mitigate that, as such plays were his greatest strength (five OAA) last season.

What could this mean in the later years of the contract?

If Donaldson's solid defense declines with age, he could be the logical successor to Cruz at designated hitter to finish out his contract, which will take Donaldson through his age-37 season. Cruz is only signed through the 2020 season after the Twins exercised his $12 million club option. It's possible that in one or two years top prospect Alex Kirilloff will play first base and either Sanó or Donaldson will assume the DH role.

Are the Twins finished adding to their roster?

The bullpen and position-player group should be all but complete. Donaldson resoundingly fills the Twins' need in the corner infield after they non-tendered C.J. Cron earlier this offseason, and the signing of Alex Avila already addressed the club's other need at backup catcher. The additions of right-handers Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard nearly completed the Twins' bullpen, which was one of the strengths of the team in the second half of 2019.

There could still be a need for the Twins to seek starting-pitching help via trade, as José Berríos, Jake Odorizzi and Homer Bailey are the only locks for the Opening Day rotation, while Rich Hill is the only starter with a lot of postseason experience. But with all of the top-flight arms now off the free-agent market, the signing of Donaldson also gives the Twins more of a buffer to possibly wait until the Trade Deadline to more fully evaluate the progress of their internal options before they dive more aggressively into the trade market for a starter.

Though Michael Pineda (suspension) and Hill won't be available to the club until midway through the season, that also gives the Twins the opportunity to take a closer look at young arms like Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe and possibly Brusdar Graterol in the interim. Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine have also indicated that top starting prospects Jordan Balazovic (Minnesota's No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline) and Jhoan Duran (No. 9) could also get a look at some point this season.

Does this affect the Twins' 2020 Draft?

Yes. Donaldson rejected a qualifying offer from the Braves earlier this offseason, meaning that the Twins will forfeit their third-round Draft pick in 2020, while Atlanta will receive a compensation pick after Competitive Balance Round B.

Where does the payroll stand?

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Twins' estimated payroll obligation for 2020 is around $136.8 million, factoring in the $21 million that Donaldson will make and the $7 million that Sanó will now earn this season. The Twins' previous record for Opening Day payroll was $128.7 million in 2018.

The Twins have now committed $134 million to free-agent acquisitions this offseason, according to Spotrac.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.