If you heard a collective groan from Minnesota Twins fans on Friday night, it’s because they’ve been here before. They’ve gotten used to hearing about their top prospects and how they could help a future contender. In other words, they may be bad now, but in five years they could win a World Series.
They heard it through the 1990s when the Twins tore everything down to build the core that won four division titles in the 2000s. They heard it in the 2010s when Byron Buxton, Miguel Sanó, and José Berríos were going to help end their playoff losing streak. And they’ll likely hear it now after the Twins traded Berríos to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Minnesota’s main goal at the deadline was to take advantage of an aggressive market for starting pitchers. They did that by acquiring Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson from Toronto. Both players are top-70 prospects that should be part of the next great Twins team. But that team won’t come together if they don’t sign Buxton to a long-term extension.
By now you know the Buxton storyline by heart. The Twins are a significantly better team with Buxton on the field but his injuries have made that far too rare of an occurrence. It’s like Buxton is Minnesota’s version of Bigfoot — magnificent when witnessed in person but rarely seen in broad daylight.
But the value Buxton brings to the table makes them a better team and one that could pull off the power reset they should have been aiming for at the trade deadline.
The offers that Buxton’s camp rejected before the deadline weren’t ones that made sense for the player. The Twins reportedly made offers of $73 million and $80 million with incentives, but Buxton turned them down thinking he could get more as a free agent in 2022.
This is especially true when Buxton could return soon and put up similar numbers that he did in April. When Buxton returned from a hip injury in June, he looked like the same player, going 4-for-11 with a homer in three games before breaking his hand. If he has the same performance, it could entice the Twins to pay up.
In reality, this is something the Twins need to do. The public perception about the team is that they don’t pay to keep their own players. But while a Buxton extension has some risk, so did signing then 39-year-old Nelson Cruz to a two-year deal prior to the 2019 season.
The Twins were also willing to take the plunge on Josh Donaldson with the largest free-agent contract in franchise history. While Donaldson is a former MVP, he was also 34 when he signed the four-year contract and has been in and out of the lineup with injuries of his own.
There’s a good chance that the Buxton extension could wind up similar to Joe Mauer’s, whose rash of injuries wiped away the value of the eight-year, $182 million contract he signed in April of 2009. But the Twins wouldn’t be investing as much and keeping a player who could play a key role for a contender.
At 27 years old and playing in a position that’s not as physically demanding as catcher, Buxton could provide plenty of value on a younger team.
Joe Ryan, Drew Strotman, and Woods Richardson could all throw with confidence knowing that Buxton could get to anything hit into center field. With Martin leading off, he could also play a super-utility role until he settles into a defensive position. In other words, it helps the entire team get better.
Even with his injury history, Buxton is part of a championship formula because of what he can do when healthy. Although there’s risk involved, the reward is worth it.