Twins latest offer to Byron Buxton exceeds $70 million [Report]

Would you give Byron Buxton a long-term deal? Twins' latest offer is worth more than Aaron Hicks got from the Yankees, according to Ken Rosenthal.

I wrote about the possibility of the Twins extending Byron Buxton earlier this week, and even mentioned Aaron Hicks as a possible comp for a talented and injury-challenged star player. Buxton certainly qualifies.

Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic has a new story out that the Twins have actually offered Buxton a contract extension of more than that $70 million, and implies that Hicks is indeed the contract comparison being thought of here. That would indicate – although Rosenthal doesn’t say this directly – that it’s a deal spanning 7 years, or a base average value of $10 million per season for Buxton.

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Now, let’s unpack this a bit, because as usual with Buxton there’s more to it than a headline and a gut instinct. Forget about a full season for a moment. I would pay, just for example, $10 million for Buxton’s April and May 2021. That player is a $30+ million player, no doubt. But of course, as is always the case, we have to counter-balance talking about how great Buxton is by also mentioning that he’s only reached 100 games 1 time in his career, and he’s now 27 years old.

Still, he’s the best player on a team with some great ones, and the conversation has moved beyond “talented” and “potential” at this point. Buxton is “capable.” He’s a superstar.

Here’s what I wrote about Buxton earlier this week, in the column in which I relayed Jim Pohlad’s latest public interview. Pohlad was asked if the Twins could afford to keep Buxton and José Berríos around for the long term and he said the answer is a “definitive yes.”

Byron Buxton contract comp

Where do you even start for a Byron Buxton contract comp?

Does he get compared with former MVPs Mike Trout and Christian Yelich despite the lack of track record? Or take a step down and look at Charlie Blackmon or Aaron Hicks? The most recent example available might be George Springer, who got $150 million over 6 seasons in Toronto just this winter.

Would you pay Buxton $25 million per year? I would, but I truthfully don’t know the best way to account for the shortened “proven” track record, the higher upside based on talent, or the lower floor based on unpredictable injuries.

To pay the pair of them a combined, say, $50 million per season undoubtedly would have consequences on building a roster. By comparison, they’re earning less than $11.25 million combined this season. And the great unknown at this point is not only how much each player will be valued by the open market, but how much the Twins would be willing to stretch in team payroll coming off two seasons that must be challenging previous revenue projections.

I got one retort on social media asking what Buxton has ever done to warrant being compared with George Springer.

It’s simple. He played like Mookie Betts.

Let’s agree, though, that Buxton won’t get Mike Trout money or Betts money. Not from the Twins or anyone. But keep in mind, this isn’t a case where the Twins are in a position of ultimate power. Buxton is one year away from testing the open market in the winter of 2022, and the pull of that market undoubtedly will have some gravity.

Buxton seems to me like a supremely confident guy. So if he doesn’t like the numbers that the Twins are throwing around, shouldn’t we expect him to bet on himself, try to put up an MVP-level season and then cash in on his first chance to choose his employer? In his worst-case scenario there he has a down (or injured) year, and takes a 1-year deal to bet on himself again. To do so would be walking away from tens of millions of dollars right now for the leveraged risk of making more.

For my money, he’s the best defensive outfielder in baseball. I haven’t spent time scouting the other guys as much as I’ve seen Buxton, but advanced metrics lend credibility to that theory as well. (At 27, I would not expect his athletic peak to carry him to the Best Centerfielder in Baseball for 7 more years, but it’s a great place to start.) Add to the defense his ability to run the bases with the best of them. He’s a perfect 5-for-5 stealing bags this year, and his career success rate of 88.2% is the best in baseball since he entered the league, among players who’ve tried at least 40 times.

Offensively, it looked like he’d arrived. In 2019, Buxton was 11% better than the league-average hitter, which would be enough to make him a star because of his elite glove and arm at a premium position in the field. (In other words, don’t compare Buxton’s numbers with just any hitter; compare him against centerfielders and his bat looks even better.) In 2020, he was 18% better than average at the plate. And this year he was crushing it. He was in the MVP race. Buxton hit.369/.409/.767 with 10 homers in 110 plate appearances.

Then he dealt with a lengthy hip strain and rehab. Then he got back June 19 and three games in he got hit by a pitch and broke his hand.

I’m sure he was crushed. I thought that Rocco Baldelli might tear up talking about it afterward. (“We can’t talk about fair because this isn’t fair [to Buxton].”) The centerfielder was so eager to be back than he initially stayed in that June 21 game vs. the Reds after the pitched baseball fractured his hand. He stayed in to run the bases. He made a catch to end the inning defensively and you could see him wince as he glided under the fly ball to collect it in his glove. He came out after that and we haven’t seen him since.

Buxton contract updates

Rosenthal writes that if the Twins and Buxton don’t come to an agreement, they’ll simply trade him. That could be this winter or it could be in the next two weeks. He notes that Buxton has played in just 38.2% of all Twins games the past 4 seasons. And that figure will likely go down before the July 30 trade deadline.

But the latest offer also includes incentives that would increase the overall value, Rosenthal reports. That seems like a no-brainer in a case like this one.

Basically, ‘Here’s a contract based on your track record of performance and injury. If you outperform that, we’ll pay you more; if you underperform it we want to set your salary floor that you’ll earn no matter what.’

If he doesn’t sign an extension Buxton will be a free agent in a year and a half, when he’ll be 29 years old. That’s plenty young to get a rich long-term deal or, if needed, re-establish value on the market before 30.

Aaron Hicks was 29 when he got his deal, and his extended absences under that contract already have some Yankees fans screaming. Then again, I guess that’s just what they do.

I said last time that I’d pay Buxton $25 million a year. And that’s easy for me to say because it’s not my money. But if the Twins are trying to make Hicks the anchor point rather than George Springer, it makes me wonder how much the incentives would be worth.

Pay him $10 million a year and another $20 million if he wins an MVP award? Make it based on games played? Those are just humdrum examples. I know the Twins have some smart people working on these kinds of details, and there’s sure to be some creativity around that sort of structure.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Rosenthal’s piece, and encourage you to go read it if you’re a subscriber to The Athletic.

In the end, Buxton must determine the extent he covets long-term security, the number he would accept to forgo the possibility of greater wealth.”

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