The Minnesota Twins and potential franchise cornerstone, Byron Buxton, have a mutual interest in a contract extension. The question for the Twins is, should they?
Byron Buxton, the young and exciting center fielder for the Minnesota Twins, apparently have similar interest as it pertains to his future as a Twin. Jim Bowden, writer for the Athletic, tweeted Monday:
Though nothing has been confirmed, it does raise the question: Should the Twins extend Buxton?
What an extension would mean for the Twins:
First, and foremost, an extension of Buxton would mean securing the services of the 2017 AL Gold Glove (and Platinum Glove) winner, for several upcoming seasons. While no numbers or years have officially been reported, generally the goal in extending players who are pre-arbitration eligible would be to buy out their arbitration years, perhaps even a year or two of free agency. The Twins would be, effectively, betting on Buxton’s progression and breakout second half of 2018 for the foreseeable future.
Buxton’s post-All Star break performance was nothing short of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the first half. After 255 AB’s through the first 79 games and hitting a paltry .216 BA, 5 Home Runs and a whopping 87 strikeouts, Buxton turned it around in the second half to slash .300/.347/.546. In 48 fewer ABs, Buxton walloped 11 HR’s, 5 triples and improved his K% (slightly) from 30.7% to 27.6%. By becoming less “pull”-centric with his approach, and watching the ball deeper into the zone, Buxton spread the ball fairly evenly throughout all fields (38.9%LF/38.3%CF/22.8%RF). This may have contributed to a few more balls finding outfield grass (62H) post-All Star break.
Buxton’s second half wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) of 130, if the Twins organizational brass believes in the growth made in those 56 games is maintainable, would put Buxton in elite territory at the position. While he wouldn’t be in the “Mike Trout” tier (and really, who else is?), any improvement with the bat could put him in the same tier as Charlie Blackmon (141 wRC+) and George Springer (140 wRC+). Buxton plays elite level defense (his 24 DFS in 2017 was good for 3rd best in all positions behind Andrelton Simmons and Mookie Betts) and is, according to Statcast SprintSpeed, the fastest man in the MLB.
If Buxton continues to improve on his 2017 season performance, signing a pre-arbitration extension could prevent the Twins from going year to year in the arbitration process, which is becoming notably more expensive. Josh Donaldson, 3 time All Star and 2015 MVP, set the MLB record in arbitration this past offseason with a mammoth $23 Million dollar salary.
There are always risks in pursuing contract extensions with young players, especially with players that have such a limited track record of success like Byron Buxton. Outside of the second half of 2017, Buxton has had middling-to-poor results in the big leagues. His disastrous call up in 2015 led to a 46 game span where he hit .209 with 2 HR and only 2 stolen bases. Not exactly the results you’d like to see from the former number 1 prospect in baseball. Buxton was, again, poor in 2016 – a year where he was a yo-yo between AAA and Minnesota – hitting .225 and striking out a mind boggling 35.6% of the time.
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Mike Trout, Evan Longoria and other players viewed as franchise cornerstones, have signed pre-arbitration extensions with their various clubs. Trout and Longoria have had outcomes largely viewed as good contracts that prevented the often messy arbitration process. Those players, though, had more established success in the big leagues (Trout was runner-up for AL MVP twice and was AL Rookie of the Year, Longoria also won Rookie of the Year and was an All Star before being extended in 2009).
The other side of the same coin is Jon Singleton. Singleton, once viewed as the Houston Astros can’t miss first baseman of the future, signed an extension with the Astros in 2014 to buy out all of his pre-arb and arbitration years, as well as the first year of his free agency. If you haven’t heard of Jon Singleton, that’s ok. He hasn’t appeared in an MLB game since 2015, and played last season in Double A.
Projecting young players, and negotiating contract extensions in pre-arbitration, is a risky business.
While I don’t believe Buxton is the next Jon Singleton, circumstantially they couldn’t be more different, there is still risk in signing Buxton this early in his development. Depending on the terms of the contract, you may be over compensating a player anticipating their output at a Mookie Betts level, only to be rewarded with an output more akin to Billy Hamilton.
Injuries and always being “an adjustment away” have kept more than a few players from reaching their potential. The Twins, if they do pursue this “mutual interest” in a contract extension, would be betting that Buxton plays to the superstar (and sometimes super human) ability he clearly has shown.