Twin for life? Byron Buxton and the Twins get a deal done
5 Thoughts on Byron Buxton, the Twins' best player, signing on for the long-term.
With the expiration of the current CBA looming over their heads, Byron Buxton and the Twins worked out a contract extension that will keep the superstar centerfielder in Minnesota through the 2028 season.
Buxton’s deal, reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, covers 7 seasons and will pay him at least $100 million – plus a hefty bonus each year if he stays healthy and gets MVP votes. His contract includes a full no-trade clause and a $1 million signing bonus, per Rosenthal. This deal has not been confirmed by the team as of this writing and reportedly is pending a physical, though you’ll note that Buxton finished the season healthy and as I’ve tracked these things over the years, Rosenthal has been 100% rock-solid on Twins news.
Let’s unpack this a bit.
Financially, you’re no longer worried about losing (or trading) your best player. From that all-important “optics” perspective, the Twins are now making grade and then some. And the keys to the car now can safely be transferred to Buxton, who inherits the mantle as the next guy who rightly can claim this is “his team.” All of that’s very exciting news if you’re a Twins fan.
Signing Buxton long-term also sets up a fascinating offseason for the Twins. This column present 5 Thoughts on the Twins signing Byron Buxton to a long-term contract.
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1) Where the contract idea came from
Let’s begin with some accountability. In my musings on the topic of a Buxton contract extension, I speculated about a contract for 8 years and $112 million. That was about dead-on for the average base value, but I went a year too long and didn’t correctly peg the huge MVP-vote bonuses.
In that same piece I went through recent comparables and concluded that Buxton would get “$18 or $19 million per year for Buxton, and then discount or incentive-load that however you think is fair to reflect his unusually high recurrence of injury.”
In other words, if you take my analysis at face value, Buxton’s camp accepted about a 20% discount in exchange for a lengthy deal and a killer incentives package. That seems pretty fair, right? The Twins are betting on their superstar in a way that hedges the bet. Buxton, meanwhile, is betting on himself in a way that seems laudable. Want to get paid? I guess just stay healthy and win an MVP. No big deal!
2) Byron Buxton contract structure by year
Buxton was on track to get about $7 million to $7.5 million this winter via his final raise through arbitration, then hit the free-agent market next offseason.
According to Rosenthal, the deal will give the Twins superstar a raise to $9 million this season, and then pay out $15 million in base salary each season after that for the length of the deal.
By paying Buxton $9 million this year – plus a $1 million signing bonus – the Twins effectively are giving him a 37% raise over his expected salary for the upcoming year. Admittedly that seems like a very minor detail in light of Buxton agreeing to stick around much longer at a rate that he almost definitely would have exceeded as a free agent one year from now. That price tag of $15 million from 2023-28 means that at least at the front end, he’ll likely be in the top-75 one-year salaries in baseball, and it basically assures he’ll never crack the top-50 without incentives.
A word on those incentives. Buxton can make another $2.5 million per year by playing all the time, measured by plate appearances. He’ll get half a million tacked onto his earnings each time he reaches a plate appearance plateau, from 502 trips to the plate up to 625. He’s only cleared that bottom threshold once, and he’s never cleared the second on the list, 533 plate appearances. But with a healthy season it’s certainly in reach, as are the MVP-vote incentives. For that, according to Rosenthal, Buxton gets another $3 million if he finishes top-10 in AL MVP voting; $4 million for 5th place; $5 million for 4th place; $6 million for 3rd place; $7 million for runner-up; and a cool $8 million in his bank account if he’s named MVP.
It’s a creative structure that I haven’t seen before. If he wins MVP and presumably maxes out his playing-time incentives in a season, Buxton could earn up to $25.5 million, which nudges his earnings closer to top-20 territory, appropriate company for such a performance.
Objectively, it’s hard to not like this deal for the Twins. And for Buxton, he’s parlayed his start-and-stop brilliance into locked-in multi-generational wealth with the only major employer he’s ever known.
3) This is a unique contract for a unique player
I’ve written many words on Buxton since I began this column. I’d like to revisit some of them here, for brevity.
Byron Buxton is a star whose value no longer hinges on “potential.” He just closed the book on his third consecutive season of massive gains in slugging percentage, and with that he also just set a career-high by far with a .358 on-base percentage. Basically, start with Robbie Grossman’s on-base skills and then add Bryce Harper’s slugging, and you’re almost to the year Buxton had in his partial 2021 season. Sprinkle in elite speed, range, arm strength and accuracy to net you Gold Glove-caliber center field defense; add in an amazing 88% career stolen base success rate; plus a personality that everyone around him seems to like, and you can quickly see why the Twins
should be spending spent long hours trying to figure out the Contract Extension conversation.
If you want to look beneath the hood at metrics to see if he really did “earn” that great season at the plate: Buxton finished third in Barrel Rate -- tied with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Shohei Ohtani this season -- all while running the lowest Chase Rate of his career (29.9%). In plain English, Buxton was a truly excellent hitter and sensational player when he was available to the Twins. And of course, we must note, there are the Injury Concerns to deal with.
4) The Buxton contract with the Twins includes a full no-trade clause, per reports
So did Joe Mauer’s, so there’s precedent for this kind of thing from the Twins, even if that precedent didn’t exist with this front office group under Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. You can bet that on a contract of this magnitude, ownership would be involved in the discussion.
Just to briefly touch on the point before we move on, I found myself wondering often over the past few months: Would Minnesota have traded Buxton if he was healthy at the trade deadline this summer? Oh, how that one boxer’s fracture might have changed the trajectory of a player – and a franchise.
(Of course, we can’t re-run the past seeking a different outcome. If we could, I’ve got some things I’d change about 2021… Then again, you’d probably go back to 2019 and keep Buxton’s shoulder healthy, ask Michael Pineda to not ingest a banned weight-loss supplement, and reconfigure your pitching plan for Yankee Stadium in October. But again, we don’t get redos.)
5) What’s next for the Twins after locking up Buxton?
Remember this summer when Twins principle owner Jim Pohlad said that they could pay both Buxton and José Berríos?
That thought jumped across my mind last night as I worked out how I would write about this massive news from a Twins perspective. I’m left wondering, given the decision that they made to trade Berríos and watch him sign an extension in Toronto: Did they have to choose?
Remember, the pair earned less than $11.25 million combined last season. After Pohlad’s comments in a Twins Radio interview, I speculated about the impact that raising that combined figure to $50 million a year would have on the rest of the roster in Minnesota. As it turns out, it wouldn’t have been even that much. More like $15 million a year for Buxton and $20 million a year for Berríos in their prime earning years.
But remember, even though the well-liked pitcher is now gone, that shouldn’t change Pohlad’s remarks, should it? Would that mean that there’s also money for a front-line pitcher? (A separate issue for another day: how many of those are left?)
Put in a fun way, that $15 million would mean that there’s another $35 million laying around to pay Max Scherzer. *winks*
Put more realistically, is there another $15 million to $25 million to spend upgrading the starting rotation, either through free agency or a trade? At $22 million a year, the Blue Jays reportedly just signed my No. 2 free agent starter, Kevin Gausman, to a 5-year deal.
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