The lead-up to this past trade deadline for the Twins was highlighted by questions about Byron Buxton’s future in the organization. Minnesota discussed a long-term extension with his representatives at Jet Sports Management, but the club’s reported offer of an $80MM guarantee wasn’t enough to get a deal done. The Twins also fielded inquiries about Buxton’s availability in trade, but they ultimately elected to hold onto the star center fielder for the remainder of the season.
With Buxton now set to enter his final year of club control, the Twins are again faced with the question of how to proceed. The front office continues to explore both the possibility of a Buxton trade or renewed efforts at an extension, write Dan Hayes and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. While the club has remained in contact with Buxton’s camp this offseason, there’s been no progress yet on a deal. The sticking point in extension talks this summer, according to Hayes and Rosenthal, was the front office’s unwillingness to include incentives that could push Buxton’s earning potential around $100MM. Whether that’s still the holdup in talks isn’t clear.
The lack of progress on an extension could point towards a trade being a likelier outcome, but the Athletic writes that Minnesota chairman Jim Pohlad is hesitant to sign off on moving Buxton elsewhere. This summer, Pohlad forcefully pushed back against the notion of the Twins kicking off a long-term rebuild. Between Minnesota’s internal group of talented position players and ample payroll flexibility that should enable the front office to add multiple starting pitchers this winter, a return to competitiveness next season wouldn’t seem to be out of the question. That all adds up to a challenging decision on how the organization should proceed with Buxton, who is one of the game’s most electrifying talents when healthy.
The sport’s former top prospect, Buxton has demonstrated that upside when able to take the field. He’s perhaps the game’s best defensive outfielder, a former Gold Glove winner who has twice appeared on MVP ballots. And Buxton is coming off an equally remarkable offensive showing, hitting .306/.358/.647 with 19 homers and nine steals over 254 plate appearances in 2021. Among players with 250+ plate appearances, only Bryce Harper outhit Buxton by measure of wRC+.
Of course, the health caveat is an important one. Buxton has only once topped 500 plate appearances in a given year (511 in 2017). The 27-year-old landed on the injured list on two separate occasions this past season, losing six weeks to a right hip strain suffered while trying to beat out a ground ball and missing two months after fracturing his left hand on a hit-by-pitch. Buxton has also missed time with left shoulder, right wrist and concussion issues just within the past three years.
While the Twins are keeping all their options open, the team doesn’t have to pick an absolute course of action this winter. Just as they did over the summer, Minnesota could elect to simply hang onto Buxton into 2022. He’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn a salary in the $7.3MM range in his final year of arbitration. The Twins could enter the 2022 season with Buxton on the roster and reevaluate their long-term options depending on the team’s performance and Buxton’s health over the first half.
That’s obviously a risky course of action itself. There’s always the looming possibility Buxton suffers another injury. Even if he stays healthy and productive, the team might not rebound as hoped. In that instance, the club would be left marketing just a few months of Buxton’s services at next summer’s trade deadline, where their return would likely be inferior to what they could pull in from clubs this winter.
Appropriately valuing a player with Buxton’s combination of raw talent, huge production and lengthy injury history is certainly a challenge — for each of the Twins’ front office, the player’s reps and other teams exploring the possibility of a blockbuster trade. That’s made all the more true by Minnesota’s atypical competitive situation, coming off a last place finish but with a clear desire to compete in 2022. That confluence of factors means Buxton’s future could be one of the bigger storylines of the upcoming winter, even though there’s no guarantee of any sort of resolution this offseason at all.