There was a warm and familiar atmosphere at Target Field on Tuesday as the Minnesota Twins hosted a press conference to officially announce a seven-year extension with Byron Buxton. Their franchise cornerstone was decked out in a deep-blue suit and a couple of signature earrings, but nothing flashed more than his $100 million smile after the ink settled on his contract.
While the move to extend Buxton seemed like a no-brainer for everyone involved, it felt like fans were waiting an eternity for the whole thing to come together.
“The first offer we made to Byron was on March 17, 2017. That’s 1,720 days ago,” said Twins general manager Thad Levine. “That’s longer than a normal negotiation… but I think it’s been our focus ever since we got here.”
Keeping Buxton in Minnesota for the long haul is an easy, necessary, and inevitable call, even if it took an uncomfortable amount of time to finally get pen to paper. While this move doesn’t automatically thrust the Twins into World Series contention, it keeps the lights on. And for a team that was looking down the barrel of a cold, dark winter, that can make all the difference.
By choosing to commit to Buxton, the Twins showed that they’ve made their intention to compete clear and that maybe they’ve learned their lesson when it comes to ponying up for a home-grown slugger.
The team has a cherished history of drafting toolsy center fielders with first-round picks.
From Kirby Puckett, to Torii Hunter, to Aaron Hicks, to Buxton himself, the hope has always been to develop superstar centerfielders from within. Each had incredible talent that mimicked their predecessor, but, interestingly, the team’s approach with each seemed to differ completely.
- After winning the franchise’s first World Series, Puckett got an extension from the team.
- Hunter walked away from the club when the Twins failed to extend an offer that was even in the realm of market value after the 2007 season.
- Hicks was traded to the New York Yankees for backup-catcher John Ryan Murphy.
One would go on to be an all-time legend, one would be a perennial all-star, and one has only played in more than 100 games in a season twice. So, where will Buxton land on this scale?
That all depends on where he takes the Twins from here.
In the past few seasons, he showed the baseball world just how good he can be when he’s right.
Since the beginning of 2019, Buxton has an MVP-caliber slash line of .277/.321/.575 in 187 games played. His slugging percentage rose considerably with each passing year, as did his wRC+, showing how high he has climbed in the league-wide ranks.
This year, he had the second-best OPS in the game (1.005), trailing only NL-MVP Bryce Harper (1.044). His defense remained elite, his base running exhilarating. While he missed considerable time with a broken bone in his hand, that injury represented misfortune more so than frailty. Now, the Twins are banking on things breaking right for Buxton instead of just breaking.
Time will tell if this deal is a worthy investment, and while the conversation begins with how much he’s able to stay on the field, Buxton hopes it ends with a world championship.
“My biggest goal is to bring home as many rings as I can,” Buxton said. “Whatever it takes.”
Indeed, it’s going to take some additional impact moves this off-season if the team is to be considered a championship contender. Even after signing Dylan Bundy to join the rotation on Wednesday night, the team still has 2-3 openings that desperately need to be filled in their starting staff and some sizable holes in the bullpen and at shortstop.
The Twins have their superstar foundation; now, they need to build upwards. If they can plug these holes with adequate contributors, Buxton is the type of player that can carry them the rest of the way. The good news for fans is that, at the very least, he’s one of the most entertaining players to watch play the game. It’ll be fun to watch him carry the team flag for a few more years.
This team is way behind on its quota for providing happy, fulfilling moments in recent years, but it’s a relief to know Buxton will be there to pull his weight.
“He’s a memory maker. When fans come to see him play, he’s making memories night in and night out,” Levine said. “The future of everything we’re trying to do here is built around guys like Byron.”