Can the Twins Afford to Keep Both Buxton and Berrios?

Photo Credit: David Berding (USA TODAY Sports)

Two of the most important players of the Minnesota Twins’ young core have played at the level that the front office and fans always dreamed of. Former 2012 first-round picks José Berríos and Byron Buxton have become the faces of this year’s team in the first month of the season.

Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick that year, has shown flashes of potential but was hampered by myriad injuries. He’s been destroying baseballs this year, hitting .481/.548/1.185 in just eight games, with five home runs and four doubles. Buxton has been locked in at the plate, barreling up 22.6% of his hits, which sits only behind teammate Nelson Cruz in all of baseball.

Berríos, the 32nd overall pick in 2012, was a back-to-back All-Star in 2018 and 2019 and is option 1b on a talented Twins starting rotation that also features veteran Kenta Maeda. In his first outing this season, he threw seven no-hit innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. In two starts, Berríos has recorded just five hits, and two earned runs with 20 strikeouts for a 1.54 ERA in over 11 innings pitched.

Worth noting: Buxton and Berríos are making a little over $11 million combined this season. That $11 million accounts for a little over 9% of the team’s $124 million payroll. On top of that, they are under team control for the next two seasons. Until then, the Twins have to work out extensions with the two star players or risk losing them to free agency in 2023.

But every great performance from both players is a mixed blessing for the front office because it means they will command more money when they negotiate their next contracts. The Twins have reached out to both camps about extensions recently, trying to take the same approach they took with Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco. The Kepler and Polanco deals were team-friendly in yearly value but sped up their paydays. They also include team options late in the deals to give the Twins some flexibility if they want to move on early and avoid the latter years in the contracts, which are more expensive.

Instead, both players have bet on themselves for the chance to cash in later, either from the Twins or another team should they hit free agency. Most fans would like to keep both players in town, but can the Twins afford to retain both Buxton and Berríos? And what kind of a commitment is that going to look like?

Based on their recent and past performance, it’s safe to say that both players are in line to become very wealthy men soon. To better understand their value, we need to take a look at recent contracts given out to players of their caliber at both positions. When looking at these superstar contracts, some key areas include the contract’s total worth and length, any team or player opt-outs, and the player’s age when the deal was signed.

Below is what the market looks like for the top starting pitchers over the last two seasons, excluding Trevor Bauer’s deal because of his unique contract:Cole broke the pitching market when he went to the Yankees after the 2019 season. While Bauer ($38 million) makes more money this season, Cole’s deal is still the largest ever for a pitcher. Berrios is a great pitcher, but it would be a tough ask of his agent to try and get him into that stratosphere. 

There will still be a good market for Berríos. Instead of a mega-deal like Cole’s, his contract would look close to Wheeler’s pact with the Philadelphia Phillies. Given that it will have been a few years since that contract, and Berríos will be 28 when his deal expires, five to seven years with an annual value of around $25 million feels like a deal that would put him in line with some of the top arms in the game. That would earn Berríos anywhere from $125-175 million, depending on the length of the deal. It would be a big commitment from the Twins, but extending the deal beyond five years could give the team a chance to sneak in an option or two.

Berríos has a couple of other factors going for him. Besides Bauer, none of these pitchers won the Cy Young Award, so it shouldn’t impact his value if he doesn’t take home the hardware. Also, the free-agent market for starting pitchers in 2023 will not be crowded, meaning that teams seeking an ace could be lining up for Berríos.

Now on to Buxton. Here’s what the contracts look like for some of the position players:

Harper is the exception when looking at the length of other contracts because he went on the open market so early. With Buxton hitting free agency at age 28, he is unlikely to get a deal as long as Harper’s. Buxton’s agent should be excited about Springer’s contract because he has the ability to leverage this against the Twins in negotiations.

Springer may have won a World Series and had more production in the big leagues, but Buxton will be three years younger with more upside because of his bat and his ability to run down fly balls in center field. A five- to a seven-year contract with Buxton making around $27 million feels like the best-case scenario for him. But if he has trouble staying on the field, the Twins might make it more of a priority to have options in the contract to get out of the deal early if injuries sap his production.

The biggest roadblock for the center fielder is his injury history. If the issue lingers over the next couple of seasons, it could make some teams are bearish on giving Buxton a long-term contract for the price he seeks. Even if that’s the case, a contract like Ozuna’s seems like the floor for Buxton.

Both Buxton and Berríos are in line for a big payday by the time they hit free agency in 2023. For the Twins to re-sign both of them, it will take a big financial commitment, but it’s something that they have been preparing for. Since Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were hired following the 2016 season, every free agent signing and trade has been calculated to give the team financial flexibility for the near future.

Outside of swinging for a couple of top free agents like Wheeler, they have not doled out many multi-year deals to free agents. They signed Josh Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million deal, but even that contract would be off the books as early as 2024. There won’t be any other big contracts coming up for the Twins in two years because Polanco and Kepler signed team-friendly deals in 2019. The Twins have nearly $56 million on the books in 2023, leaving at least $68 million for Buxton and Berríos’ extensions and more room after that if Donaldson’s club option isn’t picked up.

This isn’t a financial situation the Twins lucked into; it’s one they’ve been preparing for. Buxton and Berríos might want to test their value in the open market, but the Twins have the money to make both decide against the winter-long staring contests of free agency and keep the two playing at Target Field for years to come.

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Photo Credit: David Berding (USA TODAY Sports)

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