Over the weekend, I saw an article in The Athletic regarding Byron Buxton and talks of a contract extension. Or, rather, him wanting an extension. And then our very own Tawny pointed out this article on MLB.com. If you don’t have a subscription to The Athletic or you don’t feel like reading either article, the TL;DR version of these pieces was that Buxton would like an extension, he’s a great player (when he’s healthy), and when he’s healthy he’s a game changer.
I’m not the Twinkie Town stats person. I mean, I could go on and on about Buck’s stats, his WAR, slash line, breaking down his defense, his offense, blah blah blah. I could write about all of these things until your eyes start bleeding... but I won’t. There’s been plenty written about Buxton’s stats already all over the internets. You may be asking yourself “Why is Marea wasting my time with another Buxton article?”. I’ll tell you why. I’m trying to work out for myself what I, as a fan, want the Twins to do, and what my reaction would be to the various scenarios (i.e. let him go, trade him, sign him until 2053, etc.). Whether you want to stick with me on this journey is up to you.
For those that may not have followed along to this point in the Twins’ journey with Byron Buxton, let me unleash my inner Bob Ross and paint you a little picture:
Buxton was right out of high school when he was the second overall draft pick in 2012 (behind Carlos Correa), and received a $6 million signing bonus. For a couple of years leading up to his big league debut, even casual Twins fans (specifically, those that might not keep up with the farm teams) started to hear rumblings about these two mega-hot prospects Buxton and Sano. Buxton started tearing up the minors, and at the ripe young age of 20, he earned an invite to the Twins 2014 Spring Training, when BAM! A wrist injury sidelined him through May. He finally got to play with the Fort Myers Miracle (now the Mussels) for five games and then BAM! He hurt his wrist again. In August 2014, he was promoted to the New Britain Rock Cats (AA) and BAM! two days into his time there, he got a concussion and was shut down for the rest of the summer season. He did get to play in the Arizona Fall League that year, and by 2015 he was ranked the #1 prospect based on the games he actually did get to play - despite missing the bulk of 2014.
I’m not going to get into his entire career, but that paragraph should really give you an indication of what we are dealing with here. Buxton has a history going all the way back to his early days in the minors of playing hard and getting hurt. He’s SO. EFFING. GOOD. And the fact is, the Twins are simply a better team when he’s in the lineup or out there in center (again, I could get into his stats and WAR, but like I said, I’m not here for that). Just know that he’s ridiculously fast, can hit for power, and has zero fear of crashing into a wall. But that fearlessness is what might keep him from ever playing a full season.
The Twins and Buxton have avoided arbitration over the past few seasons, and this year he’s set to make a little over $5 million. As it currently stands, in 2023 he’ll be an unrestricted free agent and could go anywhere he wants to. So with all of this in mind, do I want the Twins to extend him?
Let’s start with his injury history. Since his Major League debut in June 2015, Buxton has yet to have an entirely healthy season. The most games he’s played in a season is 140 (2017, when he earned himself a Gold Glove). His list of health issues is pretty lengthy, while his time on the field has not been so lengthy:
- 2015: Sprained left thumb, played 46 games after being called up in June
- 2016: Knee contusion, back spasms, played 92 games
- 2017: Groin strain, migraines, played 140 games (Gold Glove season)
- 2018: Migraines, fractured toe, strained wrist, played 28 games
- 2019: Wrist contusion, concussion, left shoulder dislocation, labrum surgery, played 87 games
- 2020: Concussion symptoms, left shoulder again, sprained foot, played in 39 games (to be fair, so in reality this was 2⁄3 of the 2020 season.)
Do I think he has it in him to stay healthy? I’d like to hope so, but we can’t be certain that he can. He’d like us to believe that this year will be different. He has reportedly bulked up with a good 15 pounds of muscle coming into Spring Training, all while working with his old track coach to stay as speedy as ever. Will this extra weight/muscle/padding be enough to keep him from injury this year? Or with the extra weight/muscle/padding just add that much more momentum in a crash with the outfield wall? That extra bulk will likely come in handy with his offensive power - coupled with his speed, he could very well lead the league in extra base hits this year. If he stays healthy, he could even have an MVP season.
Now let’s stroll down memory lane and think about why the Twins would be insane to not extend him, shall we?
Inside the park homers:
And let’s not forget this little gem against his new teammate, Colomé:
It’s not all inside the park homers. I mean, how about I share three solid minutes of some of his greatest catches:
And here he is being just so goddamn fast:
Thinking back to the trade deadlines over the last few seasons, there’s always been rumors floating around that teams want Buck as part of a ridiculous deal to bring an ace pitcher to the staff. And every year, I think to myself “oh HELL no.” But what if the Twins get to 2022 without having signed him to a multi-year deal and he becomes the biggest, hottest piece of trade bait out there? Will we have another Johan Santana-type trade (that I’m still not over), or will we be lucky to have dumped him while his value was high and the other team looks like the chumps that the Twins are known to be at the deadline?
This is the problem with Buxton. He’s SO good. We KNOW he has the potential to be one of the best outfielders in the game. He has the potential to be one of the best offensive players in the game. But he just hasn’t been able to show us that he can do it consistently.
I would hate to be the Twins front office faced with this decision right now. They’ve already plunked a boat load of cash into Josh Donaldson and his faulty calf. Can they really afford to bet on Buck to become the player we all know he’ll eventually be? I’d hate to see it turn into an Aaron Hicks situation all over again. We all heard for years that Hicks would be a fantastic player. He never really found his footing in Minnesota (actually, he was a huge disappointment) and the Twins traded him to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy, who played 26 games in a Twins uniform, and then was traded for a reliever named Gabriel Goya, who has yet to see the light of day. But where is Hicks now? Oh, he’s just over there in New York still making a cool $10 million a year and finally becoming the player the Twins had hoped he’d pan out to be.
Remember when the Twins signed that one guy to that huge contract a few years ago.. what was his name.. Joe Mayer? Jon Mower.. Oh yes. Joe Mauer. The best catcher in the game, the hometown boy. The three-time batting champion and 2009 MVP. The man that grown men were weeping over when he came out in his catchers gear in his last game in 2018 (I was there and there were, in fact, grown men weeping). The man that everyone suddenly turned on once he started battling things like bilateral leg weakness and concussions. That guy got $23 million a year for eight years to ultimately not even catch anymore for the last five of his contract. He was injured a ton after he signed his mega-deal. But was he worth it? You’re goddamn right he was. Had the Twins let him go, the fans would have literally burned down Target Field.
So after all of this incoherent rambling, I’ve come to a conclusion regarding Byron Buxton:
Sign him. Extend our time with him for a good five years. Put all sorts of protective clauses in the deal or give him performance based bonuses. Buck makes it halfway through the season without injury? Here’s an extra $2 million. Oh, you made it for a full season? Here, take another $5 million. Sign the hell out of him. Because if we let him go and I see him realizing his potential in a Red Sox uniform in two years, I. WILL. SNAP.
What say you, friends?