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Forget Donaldson, the Twins should go after Nolan Arenado

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He’s worth the cost, if they really want to get better at Third Base

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Colorado Rockies v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

We know, based on their high-dollar, dramatic pursuit of Josh Donaldson that the Twins would like to add a very good third baseman to their team. This makes sense, as the infield defense, especially on the left side, was one of their weaker points this previous season. acquiring a solid defender at the hot corner, who can also hit well pushes Miguel Sano to first base, and makes two positions better. A top defender at third also helps to cover for Jorge Polanco’s average range at short.

While Donaldson is looking for a deal in the $110 million range, and making Atlanta, Washington, and Minnesota sweat it out for his services, there is another option available. There is enough smoke out there about the Rockies potentially trading Nolan Arenado that our friends at Purple Row have determined the Rox are at least considering doing so. Arenado and the Twins might actually be the perfect fit.

According to a report by the generally-reliable Ken Rosenthal (paywall warning,) one of the reasons the relationship between the Rockies and their superstar third baseman has soured is that Arenado wants to be surrounded by the pieces to make the team a winner. The Twins by-and-large have that, and certainly should continue to do so throughout the bulk of Arenado’s contract. The Twins are a couple pitchers and maybe a third baseman away from being the best top-to-bottom roster in baseball, and its entirely possible those pitchers are Brusdar Graterol and Jordan Balazovic, who both have “ace” potential, and will be MLB regulars within a couple seasons.

Note: the above paragraph didn’t actually mention it, but Arenado does have a full no-trade clause. The paragraph above explains why I believe he might be willing to waive it for the Twins, and the rest of this post assumes that he does waive the no-trade protection.

Arenado fits well on the field for the Twins. He’s by far the better defended than Donaldson, both for their careers, as well as for 2019. Range Factor, Defensive Runs Saved, and even Fielding Percentage all agree that Arenado is a significantly better defensive player, in only one less career season at third base than Donaldson. At the plate, Arenado has also been the better player throughout his career. Donaldson’s career numbers are .273/.369/.509, while Arenado’s are .295/.351/.583—and Arenado has hit 227 bombas to Donaldson’s 219. There is the largely-debunked Coors Field factor to consider for Arenado, but if you look at just road games for both players, Arenado is still the better hitter, although the gap is closer.

Contractwise, Arenado actually fits fairly well for what Minnesota wants to do as well. Yes, his paychecks will be a little steep, but the contract ends before his performance is likely to fall off. Arenado is in his prime, as 2020 is his age-29 season. Arenado’s contract is bigger than anything the Twins have ever given out. He recently signed an 8-year deal worth a total of $260 million. Yes, this is a ton of money. It breaks down to $35 million per year through 2024, $32 million in 2025, and $26 million in 2026. He can also opt out after 2021. All that said, Donaldson is likely to get between $20 and $28 million per year, depending on which reports you choose to believe. The difference between the two is that you are getting one on the downside of his career, and the other during his most productive years. This is a long-term deal, but its a deal that keeps a player through his best years, and doesn’t hold the rest of the roster hostage. If the Twins added Arenado, it would put their 2020 payroll just under $140 million, and leave them under $60 million committed for 2021, under $50 million for 2022, under $80 million for 2023, and under $50 million again for 2024. This leaves the Twins plenty of room to offer long-term deals to guys like Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, or any free agents within the realm we know they will consider a reasonable payroll.

Arenado compares well to some great players Hall-of-famers Chipper Jones and Dick Allen; Scott Rolen, who is on the HOF ballot this year; and current greats Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez, and of course Donaldson himself all pepper the “most similar” player lists for Arenado on Baseball reference.

Having established that Arenado is younger, the better player, and not necessarily at a huge price difference in dollars compared to Donaldson, that leaves the prospect cost. As Donaldson is a free agent, he only costs the Twins money. Arenado, on the other hand, would likely command a large package in trade. Bruce Levine recently reported that the Cardinals were offering Dakota Hudson, Carlos Martinez, Tyler O’Neill, and Matt Liberatore to the Rockies for Arenado. At minimum, the Twins would have to offer a package more attractive than that.

Hudson is a 25-year old righty starter with a 3.35 ERA in 33 2019 games. He’s essentially Lewis Thorpe’s best case scenario, a year farther along. Martinez is a veteran swingman, and the Twins don’t currently have a good comparison. Think someone like Scott Baker, before his arm exploded. O’Neill is basically Jake Cave. Liberatore, who the Cards just acquired from Tampa, is a highly regarded left-handed pitching prospect. Basically Brusdar Graterol at this time last year.

If I were the Twins, I would want to get the deal done without including any of the “top four” prospects—Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Brusdar Graterol, or Jordan Balazovic. Again, If I were the Twins, I’d be willing to include one of them if necessary, but they would not be in my opening offer. I’d probably start out by offering something along the lines of Trevor Larnach, Jhoan Duran, Nick Gordon, and Jake Cave. Those are the Twins #5, 11, and 14 prospects, and a steady MLB player. The Cardinals deal includes their #3 prospect, and several players who have graduated from prospect lists. There is a good chance the Twins would end up giving up more, but I also think this offer is enough to get them into the conversation. I think that the final deal would also end up costing the Twins a guy like Lewis Thorpe, or else needing Lewis, Kirilloff, Balazovic, or Graterol as the anchor in place of Larnach. Of course, we have no idea how the Twins or Rockies are evaluating any of the players mentioned.

Just to make sure I wasn’t way out of bounds with that suggestion, I ran the idea of acquiring Arenado without a top-four prospect by Ben Kouchnerkavich from Purple Row, who is generally my go-to person for all thing Rockies. He personally would want one of the top four Twins guys, but thought that the Rockies might at least consider an offer anchored by a guy outside the that group. Jeff Bridich, the Rockies GM, also seems to be a hard guy for fans to figure out, so people are unsure of what, if anything, he seems to be looking for in a potential Arenado trade.

Poll

Would you be willing to give up top prospects to acquire Nolan Arenado, if you were the Twins?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Yes
    (1091 votes)
  • 17%
    No
    (232 votes)
1323 votes total Vote Now