Josh Donaldson struggled through his first six games as a Twin before exiting midway through last Friday's contest due to right calf tightness. We haven't seen him since, and it is not entirely clear when we'll see him again.
Maybe this weekend in Kansas City. Maybe not.
Either way, his early bout with a longtime tormenter serves as a stark reminder of the risk attached to Donaldson's lucrative four-year contract, the largest in franchise history.
There is always an inherent amount of risk involved with guaranteeing a large sum of money to a player in his mid-30s. It is the fickle free agent quandary that has generally dissuaded Minnesota from entering into this arena at the high end in years past.
Mid-market teams can ill afford to be tethered to albatross contracts that consume a huge chunk of their available payroll each year. (The Joe Mauer contract, while criticized too much and for all the wrong reasons, was certainly an impediment to Terry Ryan's team-building efforts in the 2010s.)
Donaldson carries his own unique level of risk on top of the age factor. While the term "injury-prone" gets tossed around too often, it is valid in the case of someone who has a specific recurring issue. The third baseman's lengthy history of calf problems represents just that.
Here's something you may or may not know about Josh Donaldson (it's not all that obvious when he's in uniform): He has enormous calves. Seriously. This photo of "Calfzilla" from The Athletic's David O'Brien, taken at Target Field last year, is illustrative.
(Side note: I also have very big calves. It's been a running joke among friends since high school. One time a guy wrote the following line while targeting me in a battle rap: "Nick Nelson, your calves are gigantic, like the Titanic, or even the Atlantic." It was a scorching burn. My point being: I can relate in some small way.)
For his part, Donaldson has called his large calves a blessing and a curse, which sounds about right. His incredibly muscular lower half is no doubt a major contributor to his almost unparalleled ability to crush baseballs, but those calves in particular have been very problematic in recent years.
His troubles began in 2017 with the Blue Jays. Donaldson suffered a right calf strain on April 13th that knocked him out until late May. He came back and performed well the rest of the way, but played only 113 games total.
In 2018, he suffered a left calf injury 36 games in. After three weeks on the DL, he was seemingly ready to return in late June, but suffered a setback while fielding ground balls ahead of a rehab game, with an acute strain delaying his return indefinitely. "He was moving along, and then something happens. What are you going to do?" said his manager John Gibbons.
The slugger never played again for Toronto. They traded a rehabbing Donaldson to Cleveland just ahead of the post-waiver deadline on August 31st. He had a solid final month for the Indians, then went 1-for-11 with a single in an ALDS loss to Houston.
As we all know, Donaldson bounced back in a big way last year in Atlanta, making a statement by playing in 155 games. He was named Comeback Player of the Year. But that accolade only comes with a preceding tribulation, and the one Donaldson faced is hardly out of mind just because of one great rebound season.
Let's keep in mind that other contenders in JD's free agent derby (Washington and Atlanta, most notably) were shying away from four-year commitments. Even for the Twins, he was hardly their No. 1 target coming into the offseason, and talks looked to be dead before reviving in late January.
As smoothly as things have gone for Minnesota in the early portion of this 2020 campaign, Donaldson's calf issues resurfacing within the first 10 days qualifies as a significant buzzkill, mostly from the big-picture view. They can get by without him for now, but the former MVP is a key component of their grand scheme, and they invested in him accordingly.
I'd like to have genuine confidence in the team's position that this is a minor injury and not something they expect to be a long-term concern. But in a way, that just feels like wishful thinking.
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