The Twins and center fielder Byron Buxton have mutual interest in a contract extension, according to Jim Bowden of The Athletic. The two sides have discussed a new pact, Bowden hears (Twitter link), though Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweets that there’s “no traction yet on a multiyear deal.” Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN adds that “no deal is close” (via Twitter)
The Twins aren’t in any imminent danger of losing the 24-year-old Buxton, who’s controllable for the next four seasons. He’s slated to play his final pre-arbitration year in 2018, during which he’ll attempt to build on a breakout season. An integral component of a Twins team that unexpectedly won 85 games and earned a wild-card berth in 2017, Buxton accounted for 3.5 fWAR on the strength of world-class defense, tremendous baserunning and a passable bat.
As a defender, Buxton finished first in Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric (25), third in Defensive Runs Saved (24) and seventh in Ultimate Zone Rating (9.9). Offensively, Buxton posted a below-average 90 wRC+ (.253/.314/.413 in 511 PAs), but he was hugely effective at the plate in the second half of the season and also cut his strikeout rate significantly compared to 2016 (35.6 percent to 29.4). When Buxton did get on base last year, he made life miserable for the opposition. Not only was Buxton caught just once on 30 steal attempts, but he led the majors in FanGraphs’ BsR metric.
If 2017 is an indication of what’s to come from Buxton, he’ll continue to be a cornerstone for the Twins, which is what they had in mind when they selected him second overall in the 2012 draft. Buxton continued to draw major fanfare after the draft, but he was overmatched during a 138-PA debut with Minnesota in 2015 and then struggled offensively during the first half of 2016.
Although Buxton has hardly been consistent offensively, his speed and defense combine to give him a high floor. As such, even if he never puts it together at the plate over a full season, he figures to continue serving as a valuable player. It’s no surprise the Twins seemingly want him around for a while, then, and if they do continue seeking a long-term pact, recently extended center fielders Ender Inciarte (Braves) and Odubel Herrera (Phillies) stand out as somewhat comparable.
Both Inciarte (2.157 years) and Herrera (2.000) had similar service time to Buxton’s 2.064 when they received extensions last winter. And like Buxton, Herrera was entering his final pre-arb season and had four more years of control left. Inciarte also had four years remaining, but he was already about to go through arbitration for the first time. His deal bought out three potential free agent years, whereas Herrera’s bought out two.
Unfortunately for Buxton, both Inciarte and Herrera had shown more offensively at the time of their extensions. Inciarte, who was 26 when he signed, landed a five-year, $30.525MM guarantee after hitting .292/.337/.385 (95 wRC+) with 13 home runs, 56 steals and 9.5 fWAR over the first 1,586 PAs of his career. Herrera, who was approaching his 26th birthday, reeled in roughly the same guarantee as Inciarte (five years, $30.5MM) after slashing .291/.353/.419 (110 wRC+) with 23 homers, 41 steals and 7.7 fWAR in 1,193 PAs.
To this point, Buxton has taken 980 trips to the plate and batted a less-than-stellar .237/.295/.406 (84 wRC+) with 28 HRs, 41 steals and 4.6 fWAR. But if you discount a disastrous promotion in 2015 in which Buxton logged an unsightly batting line (.209/.250/.326, 53 wRC+) and accounted for minus-0.6 fWAR, you have a player who has been worth 3.9 fWAR per 600 PAs. That happens to be in lockstep with the pre-extension figures Inciarte (3.6) and Herrera (3.9) recorded.