12:55pm: It “sounds like” Buxton is slated to undergo surgery this afternoon, tweets Darren Wolfson of SKOR North 1500 AM.
12:25pm: The Twins have been playing without Byron Buxton in a full-time capacity since Aug. 1 thanks to a shoulder injury, and manager Rocco Baldelli indicated today on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM that the organization is “bracing” for the news that Buxton won’t return in 2019 (Twitter link, with audio).
“Surgery is an option here,” said Baldelli after relaying that Buxton saw a specialist in California this week. “We’re basically sitting down and bracing for the realization that this could be his season ending right now. We basically are going to see what it looks like going forward. ’Buck’ is an enormous part of what we do here. The contributions he makes on the field are fantastic, obviously — he’s one of the best defenders in the world. That being said, the energy he brings and the lift that he brings to the team is also huge.”
Buxton indeed ranks as one of the premier defenders in the sport, regardless of position. His 10 Defensive Runs Saved rank sixth among Major League center fielders despite having played fewer innings than anyone ahead of him, and his overall Ultimate Zone Rating (+8.8) ranks 10th among all fielders at any position. He also places fourth in Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric (+12) despite fewer chances than the three players ahead of him: Victor Robles, Kevin Kiermaier and Lorenzo Cain. Of course, the reckless abandon with which Buxton plays the outfield both contributes to his penchant for rangy, highlight-reel plays and puts him at greater risk for injury; his current shoulder subluxation was sustained when crashing into the center field wall at Marlins Park more than a month ago.
Beyond his defensive prowess, Buxton has enjoyed some pronounced improvement at the plate. In 295 plate appearances, he’s turned in a .262/.313/.513 slash with 10 home runs, 30 doubles, four triples and 14 stolen bases (in 17 attempts). Buxton’s speed has allowed him to rack up more doubles than singles (27) on the season, and his 23.1 percent strikeout rate is down nearly seven percent from a season ago. In all, he’s been worth 2.7 wins above replacement, per Fangraphs, and 3.2 WAR, per Baseball-Reference, in less than a half season’s worth of plate appearances. Needless to say, his loss absence has been profoundly felt by the Twins.
If Buxton is indeed lost for the year, Baldelli suggests that Max Kepler will continue to man center field on a regular basis for Minnesota. That’s a drop-off from a defensive standpoint, but perhaps not to the extent one would think. Kepler has been strong in center himself this season (+4 DRS, +3.1 UZR in 452 innings), and he’s tied for 13th among 93 qualified outfielders with seven outs above average, per Statcast. Losing Buxton fotr the balance of the 2019 season and postseason would likely mean mixing and matching with Jake Cave, Marwin Gonzalez and LaMonte Wade Jr. in right field, with Eddie Rosario continuing as the primary left fielder.
Buxton’s bounceback season at the dish will surely benefit him in arbitration this winter, when he’ll be due for a raise on this year’s $1.75MM salary. However, his general lack of plate appearances and another season truncated by injury will also prevent him from maximizing his earnings in that process. The Twins control Buxton through the 2022 season.