When you go over all the risks about making long-term contract offers, this situation still isn't one you'd put on the list. The Atlanta Braves got lucky.
Can you turn the clock back about six months? That's the point where the Atlanta Braves were in this tense 4-way staredown between themselves, the Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins, and free agent Josh Donaldson.
The Nationals were the first team to throw in the towel. Their third base solution ended up being "internal" (Carter Kieboom) with support available from Asdrubal Cabrera and perhaps Howie Kendrick. Much cheaper.
The Braves and Twins stubbornly stayed in this battle until the end, when the Twins ponied-up big: $21 million per year for 4 seasons with a club option for a fifth year at $16 million -- with the likely outcome being that the $8 million buyout clause is selected instead. So $92 million guaranteed.
Forget those numbers for a moment and consider the fact that Donaldson is now 34½ years old. The consensus among all observers as this Winter waiting game played out was that while it would take extra years of commitment to land the former MVP, it would be the first year that would make it all worth it for the signing team.
How's that looking now?
Even if baseball manages to scrape together 80 games to salvage a disastrous 2020, the Twins are now left hoping against hope that Donaldson can be great for at least another season beyond this year.
If not, it's Joe Mauer all over again for them.
You remember Joe? Great catcher. Great hitter. In 2009 he was the American League MVP while leading the league in average, OBP, slugging, and OPS (1.031). His OPS+ was 171.
During the next Spring Training, Mauer inked an 8-year extension with the Twins for $184 million - starting the following season. $23 million per year x 8.
He never approached those MVP numbers again. Mind you, Mauer was still excellent for 4 more years (2010-2013), but the decline came quickly -- primarily related to concussions. From 2014 on, he barely touched an 800 OPS once.
Mauer retired after his age 35 season.
A catcher is not a third baseman, and Donaldson's health is not nearly the same concern as Mauer's. But Donaldson is going to be expected to produce $23 million numbers (that's the contract when you pro-rate out his option buyout) during his age 35/36/37 seasons.
For Twins fans - the Mauer comparison will be hard to avoid if Donaldson falters.
Atlanta Braves Contracts
So how does this look now from the perspective of the Atlanta Braves? Did they dodge a bullet? Did the Twins bail them out?
Only time will really answer the questions. Time in which Donaldson is on the field and we can see how he performs over the next 3 seasons. Most -- other than Donaldson himself -- don't feel he'll be a $20-million-man for that long.
As things stand, the Braves now have the following players signed beyond the 2020 season:
- Travis d'Arnaud (2 years/$16m; expires after 2021)
- Freddie Freeman (8 years/$135m; expires after 2021)
- Chris Martin (2 years/$14m; expires after 2021)
- Ender Inciarte (5 years/$30.5m+; option for 2022)
- Will Smith (3 years/$40m; club option for 2023)
- Ozzie Albies (7 years/$35m; options for 2026-27)
- Ronald Acuna Jr. (8 years/$100m; options for 2027-28)
Darren O'Day has a club option for 2021. But that's it. None of these would appear to be of any size or duration that might be expected to hurt the club either in terms of cost or duration.
That Donaldson contract? That has to be making Twins fans more nervous as each day ticks by on the calendar. They know their "window" has a limited duration; they need a 2020 season to happen.
As for the Atlanta Braves? Sometimes you can win the signing game by losing it.