What does Byron Buxton's future hold? Report outlines Twins coming to a crossroads (unlocked)
Open to all: Byron Buxton and the Twins can't come to an agreement over a contract extension, according to a report from The Athletic. What does that mean for the Twins at the trade deadline?
There’s so much to get to this week I could barely fit it into one column. The Minnesota Twins are staring down what figures to be a fascinating week, with implications on the future of the franchise.
This week in the full 5 Thoughts column I wrote about…
*Jon Heyman telling me Taylor Rogers is “more likely than not” to get traded
*Jon Morosi reporting that the Twins have had preliminary trade talks for Max Kepler
*José Berríos and why the market could be so hot for starting pitchers
*And of course, Byron Buxton’s future in Minnesota
To support this column costs less than $1 per week for a full year. If you’ve been on the fence this is a great time to try it out for just $5, with the 2021 MLB Trade Deadline this week.
1) Byron Buxton’s future in Minnesota
Byron Buxton has ‘rejected’ a contract extension offer from the Twins, according to a report in The Athletic. Ken Rosenthal later amended that wording, stating that it’s more accurate to say that both sides rejected proposals from each other. In any case, the timing and the contents of the report give the impression of an impasse in contract extension talks.
The report from Rosenthal and Dan Hayes said that Buxton’s camp turned down a $73 million offer over 7 years, and the Twins apparently upped the amount to $80 million guaranteed, presumably with incentives that would bring the total value higher based on things like playing time and individual accomplishments.
The key quote:
“…Ultimately the parties could not bridge the gap that defined these negotiations — the difference between what Buxton delivers as an oft-injured player, and what he might deliver if fully healthy.”
This news stings enough on its face if you’re a Twins fan. Many stars have been groomed in Minnesota and left when the team couldn’t get a deal done, although none quite like this. The circumstances surrounding the former No. 2 overall pick are different from any that I can remember. Buxton had just appeared to arrive at the height of his baseball powers, and multiple injuries have now sidelined him for the majority of the season. Maddeningly, those are the parallel lines running through his career in Minnesota.
Until recently you likely didn’t have to wrestle with the possibility that he would bolt. As a fan you could pick your preference — sign him and gamble, or don’t and risk losing him. There was still time to figure everything out. Sure, this ‘blip’ of a season came at a bad time — and for that matter, the global pandemic came at a bad time for the Twins, but of course everything is relative. And yet the team’s leadership has said that they’ll be right back there next year to compete for the AL Central crown.
(If you want the stats again, Buxton turns 28 this winter and has one more season in which his salary is determined through arbitration, after which he can become a free agent ahead of the 2023 season. He’s been an above-average MLB hitter for 3 seasons now, and remains one of the best centerfielders in baseball, if not the very best. In addition to the exceptional speed and defense, Buxton also has slugged .513 and .577 in the past two seasons, and this year that number was up again. 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. The Twins’ superstar won A.L. Player of the Month for April and is hitting .369/.409/.767 at the time of this writing. A strained hip and broken hand have forced Buxton out of 73 of the teams 100 games this year.)
This report brings forward a very real possibility that Buxton will not be in Minnesota long-term. That would have ramifications on the rest of the roster, if you’re asking my opinion. Buxton in ‘22 is an injury risk because that’s all history is telling us. Buxton is also the best player on the team entering ‘22 because that’s all recent history is telling us. Without his 5- or 7-Win self standing in centerfield for the Twins, it’s hard to figure how the roster has the upside to get into the mid-90’s for wins next year. Leaving aside completely the need to bounce back from a dreadful year and revamp the pitching staff in very short order.
It would be unusual to see an injured star player dealt while on the shelf. The buying team would simply have too much risk to want to pay a high price, and if you’re a seller without an urgent need to deal a star under the pressure cooker of a Friday deadline, why would you bow to that risk aversion by accepting some lesser package in return for your superstar?
But as The Athletic lays out in its piece, you do have to wonder if this means that no long-term deal can be reached. And if that’s the truth, then what do you do about 2022? Give it one more run with a core you seem to really like, despite poor on-field results? Or do you get something in exchange for Buxton this winter, when more teams could reasonably be expected to enter the fold?
My personal opinion is you run it back with this group one more time, but I’ll admit that the Twins find themselves in a bit of a pickle.
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