Before the Twins Re-Up Nelson Cruz… Are We Sure Josh Donaldson Still Plays 3rd Base?

Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

The Minnesota Twins are interested in bringing Nelson Cruz back for 2021 and he wants to be back. There are a few things standing in the way of a happy reunion, however. The biggest obstacle is Josh Donaldson’s health.

Let me explain… It all starts with the MLB’s unilateral Designated Hitter rule. The National League played their games with a DH for 2020 and it sounds like they will do the same going forward. That means more teams will want free agent, Nelson Cruz, this offseason.

Cruz would have made a base salary of $12 million in 2020, had the MLB not lost 102 games of its season to coronavirus. Nelson’s price isn’t expected to be a problem. He’s likely to cost approximately the same (per year), even after another big season and more suitors. Term, however, could become a point of consternation.

Is Two Years Too Many?

If Nelson Cruz would sign a “play one/see one” contract again, the deal might already be done. The Twins seem very interested in Cruz as their 2021 DH, but looking ahead to 2022 is a lot more difficult. By then, Nelson Cruz will be 42 and who knows what will be happening with the rest of Minnesota’s roster.

The Twins have three power-hitting prospects ready to play in the MLB (Kirilloff, Larcach, Rooker), a hobbled Josh Donaldson playing 3rd and someone in Miguel Sano at 1st, who everyone has already dubbed a future DH. Other teams could be more willing to offer $10M+ for two consecutive seasons ($20M+ total), leaving Falvine to predict the future before making a decision.

Are We Sure Josh Donaldson Can Stay Healthy at 3rd Base?

Josh Donaldson is signed with the Minnesota Twins through the 2023 season and they have a club option for 2024 (with an $8M buyout). Pohlad will pay Donaldson $21 million each of those seasons, until 2024 ($16M). He’ll be 35 when the 2021 season starts and 38 for the last year of his deal.

That’s a lot of money to have invested in a hitter who only played in 28 of a possible 60 games last year; not to mention being scratched from the Twins’ Wild Card Playoff roster, because of a “calf-strain” that has hampered him for the life of his career.

I include the health of Josh Donaldson in all of my nightly prayers because I want him to play 3rd base for the Minnesota Twins. I’m sure the Twins front office does the same… but we have to live in reality.

What are the odds that Donaldson can play 140+ MLB games at 3rd base, at this point in his career? And if Falvine isn’t sure he can, then how do you re-sign Nelson Cruz (especially for two full seasons) at Designated Hitter? If Donaldson can’t stay healthy while playing the field, the only place he can go is DH.

Defensive Shifts Make the Problem Worse

Josh Donaldson is considered a very good defensive 3rd baseman, as long as he can reach the baseball. Because of his age and bad calf, Josh doesn’t have near the range he once did and is considered one of the slowest players on the Twins roster.

Many times, when the Twins shift a left-handed hitter, Donaldson goes from a 3rd baseman, to a shortstop, where he has infinitely more ground to cover. No wonder why he hates the shift so much…

Back to Cruz

If the Minnesota Twins front office is convinced that Donaldson’s health won’t be a problem, then they should sign Cruz to another contract, even if it means two more seasons. Nelson Cruz makes the Twins a way better and scarier baseball team and he is a leader in the clubhouse.

But so does/is Josh Donaldson… and you can’t play both guys at DH.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan