Late Sunday night Jim Bowden of The Athletic reported that the Twins are interested in signing Byron Buxton to a long term contract, and vice versa:
Byron Buxton has interest in signing a long term deal with the #Twins and the feeling is mutual as both sides have had conversations according to sources— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) March 5, 2018
Of course, Buxton is only 24-year-old at the moment and is still under team control for the next four years. The idea here is to lock Buxton up to a guaranteed deal throughout his arbitration years. It’s not an uncommon practice. The Twins did the same with with Brian Dozier, signing him to a four year, $20 million contract extension before the 2015 season. That deal saved the Twins a bundle of money — according to Fangraphs, Dozier has been worth $113.1 million to the Twins already over that time — but Dozier at least had the piece of mind knowing he had a guaranteed salary regardless of his health or performance.
Buxton, of course, was a perennial top prospect in baseball before being called up to the majors, but he initially struggled. He hit just .220/.274/.398 through his first 138 games split between 2015 and 2016, while being shuttled back and fourth between the majors and the minors several times. The speedy center fielder looked like he had turned a corner near the end of 2016 — he hit .287/.357/.653 with nine home runs through his last 29 games — but came back in 2017 and struggled yet again.
It wasn’t until the second half of 2017 when Buxton finally looked like he was living up to the hype. He hit .300/.437/.546 with eleven home runs, and more importantly, won just about every defensive award under the sun, including the Rawlings Gold Glove Award for best defensive center fielder in the AL, the Fielding Bible Award for defense, the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award, and the Rawlings Platinum Gold Glove Award for best overall defensive player in the AL. There may have been some overs — it’s hard to keep track of these things.
Given Buxton’s breakout last season, it’s entirely unsurprising the Twins would want to lock him up to a long term deal. After all, Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts won a surprising $10.5 million salary for 2018 through arbitration, the highest arbitration award ever given to a player in his first year of eligibility. The Twins might like to avoid a surprise like that. While Buxton could try to go for his own arbitration pay day once he’s eligible, there’s good reason a player who’s had many ups-and-downs, not to mention injuries, would want to take a guaranteed deal if it was at least fair.
However, it sounds like Bowden may be exaggerating a bit here, or at least jumping the gun a bit. A couple of the local Twins beat writers were quick to add in their two cents:
Checked Saturday and was told there was no traction yet on a multiyear deal for Byron Buxton, per person with direct knowledge. This will ebb and flow for some time. First Ian Kinsler multiyear in Texas took 18 months for Thad Levine to hammer out. #mntwins.— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) March 5, 2018
My guess is that the Twins have mentioned the possibility of a long-term deal, and perhaps are even working on something with Buxton’s agent, but a long-term deal isn’t imminent. It wouldn’t make a difference whether they made the deal now or at the end of the season anyway, so what would the rush be? Especially considering how awful this off season has been, it seems like maybe waiting to see if free agency returns more to normal next year would make sense for agreeing on what the size of a long-term deal with Buxton would be.
Byron Buxton is hardly the only young, talented player the Twins have right now, so what about the other guys? Are the Twins looking to lock them up too? Well, according to Mike Berardino, not yet. Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, and Jose Berrios all said the Twins have not yet approached them about long-term deal.