Trading Berríos Made Sense, But Moving Buxton Doesn't

Photo Credit: David Berding (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Twins season is over, and it’s time to look forward to what their roster will look for next year. No matter what happens, it’s going to be different than last season with the departures of José Berríos, Nelson Cruz, Andrelton Simmons, and others. But a Byron Buxton trade would bring the most significant change.

Buxton’s future has been uncertain over the past few seasons. The 2012 second overall pick wasn’t drafted by the current front office led by Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, and contract extension talks over the summer have hit a stalemate. Buxton’s camp reportedly rejected a seven-year, $80 million offer loaded with incentives from the Twins in late July. Many fans and analysts speculated that a trade was imminent after the most recent impasse.

On top of all that, Minnesota’s decision to trade Berríos to the Toronto Blue Jays in late July only led to more Buxton trade speculation. The Berríos trade showed that the Twins front office was willing to move one of their best players if the price was right. Trading a franchise pitcher like Berríos wasn’t ideal, many fans were hoping the team would sign him to a long-term deal, given Minnesota’s dearth of veteran pitching. Because they dealt Berríos even though he had another year remaining on his contract, trading Buxton seemed like the next logical progression.

On paper, an impending Buxton trade only seems logical. Despite his previous statements that he wants to stay in Minnesota, Buxton isn’t certain to remain long-term. But a deeper dive into the details indicates that the Berríos trade makes more sense and would be more beneficial to the Twins than a Buxton trade.

Trading Berríos made sense because the right-hander was looking for a long-term contract in the $25-30 million per year range. The Twins were hesitant to give that kind of money to Berríos, who said that he would love to stay in Minnesota but wasn’t going to take a hometown discount to continue pitching at Target Field. While both Buxton and Berríos would command big paydays in their own rights, if you had to choose one contract over the other, a $20 million per year deal loaded with incentives gives the Twins more flexibility because of the lower guaranteed number.

There are plenty of options in the market if the Twins want to spend top dollar on a free agent pitcher, especially this offseason with plenty of big-name starters hitting free agency. But when it comes to position players with Buxton’s talent, guys like him rarely ever are available in free agency. When they are, the best free agents tend to pick big-market teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers. Teams like Minnesota rarely get a chance, or are unwilling to, to outbid them on the open market.

In addition to the difference in contracts, Minnesota’s ability to maximize their return on Buxton won’t be as high as it was when Berríos was dealt. The Twins were able to poach two top-five prospects from one of the most loaded farm systems in baseball in Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson. Toronto was more willing to part with them because the deal was struck on the final day before the trade deadline and Berríos had an extra year of service time.

In Buxton’s situation, the MLB offseason is the least urgent time in pro sports. Teams will be interested, but it’s hard to imagine anyone breaking down the door to give the Twins a similar deal, or something better, for Buxton’s services.

The Twins also become a different team when Buxton is penciled in the lineup. Since the beginning of 2019, the Twins have a 103-69 record when Buxton plays and a 106-106 record without him. His recent surge in production at the plate followed by his masterful defensive ability puts the Twins in a better position to win every time he’s in center field. Berríos has obviously helped guide the Twins to plenty of victories during his Twins career, but he only pitches once a week.

With all of this in mind, the No. 1 one reason why the Twins shouldn’t trade Buxton after dealing Berríos already is that Buxton hasn’t come close to reaching his full potential.

Buxton has shown plenty of flashes of great play throughout his career starting in 2017, when he finished with 16 home runs and a 3.6 WAR, earning some MVP votes. Injuries impacted his play over the next couple seasons, but last year he earned MVP votes again by playing stellar defense and hitting 13 home runs in 130 at-bats.

This season it felt like it was all going to come together until injuries derailed what looked to be Buxton’s breakout season as one of the most dynamic players in baseball. Despite only logging 235 at-bats, he still smacked 19 home runs, 23 doubles, and with a low strikeout rate while totaling a career-high 4.1 fWAR. After the first month of the season, it looked like Buxton could have taken home MVP honors.

His play early this season should indicate to the Twins that they have one of the most electric players in baseball, not discourage their efforts to re-sign him. Buxton’s ceiling is one of the highest in the game right now.

Conversely, Berríos was a solid player in his own right, but there was always a question of if he was a bona fide ace. The two-time All-Star has earned a reputation of being a durable and consistent option for his team. You know what you’ll get with Berríos, a pitcher with nasty movement who can pitch close to 200 innings with an ERA between 3.50 and 4.00 every season.

He was one of Minnesota’s best pitchers since Johan Santana. That reputation of a high-innings pitcher like Berríos has is great but concerns could be pointed to his high number of innings already in his career. So far, he’s thrown 851.2 innings already before he’s turned 28. Would a move to presumably pay him the lofty salary be wise with a pitcher who has logged so many innings before he’s reached age 30? Also with the potential of Berríos, it still feels like he was always scratching the surface of being an ace but never could quite get to that level.

Berríos was the Twins ace, but he was a No. 2 or 3 starter next to Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray in Toronto. Berríos has a high floor but has probably already hit his ceiling, which is a solid No. 2 or 3 option on a contending team. Minnesota is probably wise not to give a player $30 million a year in that situation

On the other hand, Buxton is a player with a low floor due to his injury history, but he has one of the highest ceilings in baseball. His elite defensive ability, speed on the bases, and ability to hit for contact and power have pushed him into a category that only a small handful of players belong to.

Moving on from Berríos was difficult, but the team and fan base were able to do so rather quickly. Trading Buxton could become a move that the Twins brass will instantly regret for years to come. If you thought letting David Ortiz go was bad, it would be even more embarrassing to move Buxton considering we’re already seeing the full impact he has made in a Twins uniform.

Berríos and Buxton are great talents that helped the Twins earn three postseason births and two division titles during their time in Minnesota. Both should still be in Twins uniforms, but after dealing Berríos, the Twins are still in a great position to win with a new set of prospects.

Dealing Buxton would add to their prospect pool or could net an impact pitcher, but what more of an impact can another arm make that would be even close to the level of Buxton when he’s in the lineup? He has the ability to take his game and the Twins to another level because he hasn’t even reached his full potential.

If the Twins really are serious about competing next season, Buxton will have to be at the center of it.

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