FARGO — The Minnesota Twins made a free agent splash last week, signing slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson to a four-year deal reportedly worth more than $90 million. Donaldson, who mashed 37 home runs last season with the Atlanta Braves, is being injected into an offense that cracked a Major League Baseball record 307 home runs in 2019.
While Donaldson's power numbers are attention-grabbing, Twins veteran television broadcaster Dick Bremer thinks there have been under-publicized elements of the signing thus far.
"One, he's a very good defensive third baseman so he'll improve the infield defense, which might have been a weakness for the Twins last year," Bremer said Monday night during the Twins Winter Caravan stop at Fargo's Sanctuary Events Center. "(Two), I've never seen him give an at-bat away. He's a very intense player and that's going to fit in really well with an already strong lineup."
The Twins are coming off a 101-61 season that ended abruptly in the American League Division Series. The New York Yankees swept Minnesota 3-0 in the best-of-5 series.
"It's a case where hopefully the taste of postseason, and postseason failure in particular, (makes you want it) that little extra," said Jack Morris, a Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher and television analyst for Fox Sports North. "It's best to peak at the end of the year. I think the Twins picked mid-summer instead of a little later in the fall."
Left-handed pitcher Lewis Thorpe, infielder/outfielder Luis Arraez and outfielder Trevor Larnach joined Bremer and Morris on the Fargo stop. Team president Dave St. Peter also made an appearance. Thorpe and Arraez both made their MLB debuts last season. Arraez had a breakout year, batting .334 with four home runs and 28 RBIs in 92 games. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound Larnach was organization's Minor League player of the year in 2019.
"We are excited for this year and we're excited to see what's in store," Thorpe said. "We're going in with a lot of confidence and we're still going to stay humble."
That optimism stems from adding a player like Donaldson to an already-potent lineup. Including Donaldson, the Twins will have six players on their roster who hit at least 30 home runs last season. Veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who belted 41 home runs last season, is returning for his second season with the Twins.
"I hope that the influence that Nelson Cruz had last year with this group, will be rediscovered when Donaldson hits the clubhouse," Bremer said. "He's a real good teammate."
Morris said Donaldson is going to help solidify the team's infield defense, while also adding intangibles.
"If I was on the mound and had Donaldson at third, I would throw a lot of fastballs inside to right-handed hitters, hoping they would pull the ball," Morris said. "I equate Josh Donaldson to a really good hockey goalie. He has tremendous instincts. He reacts to the ball well. Defensively, he is a huge plus at third base. ... He's got that edge on him and I think that will rub off on this team. It's always nice to have that veteran who shows, not just tells, but shows guys how to play the game the right way."
Bremer said the Twins are poised to have a strong bullpen with left-hander Taylor Rogers and right-handers Trevor May, Sergio Romo and Zach Littell returning. Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda were among the team's top starters last season. The Twins also added veterans Rich Hill and Homer Bailey in the offseason. Hill (offseason surgery) and Pineda (suspension) won't be ready to start the season so Thorpe is hoping to compete for a spot in the starting rotation out of spring training.
"Hopefully, I can get into the starting rotation, but whatever they want me to do I will do it," said Thorpe, who went 3-2 with a 6.18 ERA for the Twins last season in 12 appearances, including two starts.
"I think any concerns there might be are going to be in the rotation, because I think the bullpen is going to be pretty good," Bremer said of the team's pitching.
Bremer added, however, that the starting rotation was strong enough to help the team to more than 100 wins a season ago.
"They won 101 ballgames because their rotation for most of the year was really good and reliable," Bremer said. "I really believe that last year is the beginning of what is going to be a good extended run for Twins fans."