It’s forgivable if some Minnesota Twins fans have sticker shock over Byron Buxton’s new contract. A player with all-star talent but can’t stay on the field is a risky investment for a mid-market team like the Twins. If they are having flashbacks about Joe Mauer’s contract, it’s hard to blame them.
But Buxton’s deal is more beneficial to the Twins than you think. With an incentive system that doesn’t lock them into a high number, the front office played the game correctly and now have an absolute steal for a player of Buxton’s caliber.
Over the past four years, the Twins have been a better team when Buxton has been on the field. Dating back to the 2018 season, the Twins own a record of 209-146 when he plays and 164-189 when he doesn’t. For those who aren’t mathematically inclined, that’s a 123-point drop in winning percentage when Buxton isn’t available.
That’s because Buxton does a lot of things that most players can’t do. Buxton has always possessed elite speed, and he’s been able to harness it into playing Gold Glove defense in center field. In a way, this could be used as a positive in Minnesota’s pursuit of pitching. Free-agent hurlers will be keen on having a guy who can catch anything behind them.
His defense has always been excellent. But Buxton has added an element of power to his approach at the plate. When he struggled to make contact early in his career, Buxton’s penchant for striking out was a detriment to Minnesota’s success. But after making some adjustments, Buxton has made a habit out of driving the ball, resulting in some career numbers.
Last year alone, Buxton set career-bests in batting average (.306), on-base percentage (.358), slugging percentage (.647), and home runs (19). The scary part about those numbers is that Buxton is only scratching the surface because he only played in 61 games. We’re talking about an MVP candidate if he had played a full season.
With that in mind, it’s almost like Buxton’s injury history helped the Twins get a bargain of a deal. Five-tool outfielders don’t come cheap. The Boston Red Sox found this out while trying to extend Mookie Betts following the 2019 season.
Two years removed from winning the American League MVP Award, Betts cashed in on a 12-year, $365 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. While you think there’s a significant gap between Betts and Buxton, that gap could be closed if Buxton stops slamming into walls and getting hit by errant pitches.
But it’s also possible that Betts is a high-end example of what Buxton could become. If we look at last year’s free-agent market, George Springer was the big winner, signing a 6-year, $150 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
While Springer has also exhibited better health than Buxton, multiple factors suppressed his value on the open market, including his age. Relying on Springer to continue his production at age 32 was a gamble for Toronto, and it ended up hurting them when Springer was out of the lineup for most of the first two months of the season.
Many Twins fans could see the same scenario playing out with Buxton, but there are several reasons why this is a better deal. If Buxton can play in a normal amount of games, he should produce at a high level. With the Twins on the hook for $9 million in 2022 and $15 million for the remaining five years of the contract, Buxton already has more value than Springers’ contract will.
Think of it this way, would you rather have an MVP-caliber player at age-32 for $25 million a season? Or an age-28 player who’s entering his prime for $15 million per season? The choice seems obvious.
But the Twins also gave Buxton a team-friendly deal that also could be beneficial for the player. If Buxton lives up to his potential, he should be a regular in the Most Valuable Player award voting. With an incentive system based on if he finishes in the top 10, Buxton could collect even more money from the Twins.
In the end, both sides achieved what they wanted in this deal. The Twins’ front office got a deal that locked up a potential superstar but didn’t hinder their ability to add to the roster. Buxton got a long-term deal that could also reward him if he becomes the player many believe he could be.