Twins

Let’s Not Make the Joe Mauer Mistake With Byron Buxton

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA TODAY Sports)

We’re only days before the clock strikes midnight on the upcoming lockout. It seemed like extension talks between the Minnesota Twins and their star center fielder Byron Buxton were unable to agree on a long-term extension before Dec. 2. It seemed unlikely to happen until suddenly it did.

After plenty of speculation and worrying that a deal wasn’t going to happen, the Twins and Buxton came to an agreement. According to Ken Rosenthal, the team and Buxton have agreed on a seven-year, $100 million contract that will pay him an average annual value of $15 million and is loaded with incentives. As news broke on the contract details, it seemed like a win for both sides. Buxton gets the big payday, and the Twins will have him patrolling center field for years to come.

Many fans loved the signing. The Twins were able to retain a homegrown prospect they took No. 2 overall in 2012. Buxton now undoubtedly becomes the face of the franchise.

As significant as the moment will be for both sides when the team and Buxton officially ink the contract, this situation draws some interesting parallels to the last time the Twins were in this situation. Buxton could become “new Joe Mauer” because of his new contract if we aren’t careful.

Buxton and Mauer were high draft picks by the Twins who rose through the farm systems as top prospects in all of baseball. Mauer became the face of the franchise early in his career. Between 2006 and 2009, he earned three All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves, three batting titles, two Silver Sluggers, and the 2009 AL MVP Award before the Twins extended him in 2010.

Like with Buxton, there was concern at the time over whether the Twins would pay up to extend him. Mauer and the Twins ultimately agreed to an 8-year, $184 million contract with a $23 million AAV right before the regular season. Much of the fanbase was thrilled that they were retaining a homegrown player. They hoped that the contract not only showed the Twins could re-sign star players but that Mauer would be able to continue improving in his prime years.

It was that line of thinking that set up the narrative for the rest of Mauer’s career. A player making his kind of money needs to be contributing at an All-Star level every season, or he’s overpaid, and the contract is a bust.

Two factors played a big role in Mauer’s fall from grace in the eyes of many Twins fans. The first was that the floor fell from under the Twins championship window during the 2011 season, the first year the contract went on the books. A long rebuild ensued where Minnesota missed the playoffs every season until 2017. Also, during that time, Mauer’s career took a decline due to multiple injuries, including most notably his bi-lateral leg weakness and concussion issues that moved him from catcher to first base.

Despite the injury history and only playing 83 games in 2011, Mauer played at least 113 games every year after that. While there was a drop-off in production during his second contract, the former MVP finished his career slashing .290/.372/.405 with 62 home runs and 451 RBIs during the 2011-2018 seasons.

A large amount of frustration among Twins fans resulted from the team being terrible and losing over 90 games five times during his second contract. There was a feeling that his contract kept the team from investing more in the rest of the roster. Plus, he wasn’t playing like someone who was making $23 million a year.

Twins fans became too hung up on Mauer’s price tag. While he wasn’t playing up to the level of the contract, that attitude soured most of his remaining seasons in Minnesota. Mauer never hit for power in Target Field or consistently wanted to pull the ball. But he slashed .306/.388/.439 for his career, accumulated 2000 hits, and will receive Hall of Fame consideration. The Twins were able to retain a great player they developed, and many took him for granted.

Buxton has been plagued with injuries during his seven-year career, making Mauer’s ailments outside of his career-altering concussion seem insignificant in comparison. The center fielder has only played over 100 games once and above 81 games only three times. Now Buxton will get another seven years to change the narrative. However, even if he can’t stay healthy, that doesn’t make Buxton’s extension a bust. He’s a generational talent when healthy and

Despite receiving votes when he’s been healthy, Buxton has never won an MVP like Mauer. But he was an early-season MVP candidate in 2021 when he hit.370/.408/.772 with nine home runs, ten doubles, and five stolen bases in the first 24 games of last season. Much like Mauer, Buxton will continue to play at the level he always has in his career. When healthy, the Twins will get a borderline MVP. Even if he isn’t, Buxton can still be valuable to this team 104-67 with Buxton in the lineup and are 106-106 without since 2019. The Twins are a better team with him in the lineup and will continue to be. It just might not manifest in the way fans and analysts would like it to be.

Keeping in mind all of what happened with Mauer, it’s crucial that fans and analysts alike have a better understanding of the situation this time around with Buxton. While he may not have as much hardware, he has a Gold Glove to his name and was an MVP candidate when healthy last year.

Buxton must play at a high level during his seven-year deal. But Twins fans and those who follow the team need to avoid the mistake made with Mauer. We can’t get hung up on the price tag. Otherwise, we risk underappreciating a generational talent who will be roaming center field at Target Field for years to come.

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