Hardball, the Twins, and Byron Buxton
Friday evening update: Wolfson shared that Buxton would not be joining the Twins tomorrow, as the rosters expand to 40. He later confirmed that the plan, at least at the moment, is that Byron will shut it down as soon as Rochester's season ends Monday.
In 2018 Buxton has played in just 28 games with the Twins, and his .383 OPS is third worst among all players with at least 90 plate appearances. Due to migraines, a broken toe, and a wrist injury, he’s missed a considerable chunk of the season. Calling 2018 a lost year would be defining it well, but there’s still opportunity to get something of value from the remaining slate.
At the crux of Buxton’s issues is the fact that he simply needs exposure. Playing time and competition against the best in the sport are the avenue to getting him back on track. A season ago, he was the Platinum Glove winner, a Gold Glove winner, and he garnered MVP votes in the American League. The bat still wasn’t where Minnesota had hoped, but the reality is that his defense is so good that there’s significant margin for error.
From this writer’s vantage point, the Twins have made some peculiar decisions with Buxton in 2018. Not sending him out on a rehab assignment following his time missed with migraines was fine in my estimation. After completing his rehab assignment revolving around his broken toe, demoting him to Triple A was nothing short of confusing. Regardless of standing, Minnesota went from suggesting that Buxton’s defense was so imperative to the team’s success that they needed him here, to believing he couldn’t hit MLB pitching and Triple A was the place for a jump-start.
Since rejoining Rochester from his latest stint on the disabled list, Buxton is slashing .386/.413/.659 with nine extra-base hits. He has a less than ideal 10/1 K/BB rate, but it’s again clear that he’s well above the level he's currently tasked with. Although he didn’t voice it publicly, I’d imagine Buxton would echo his wife’s sentiments when it comes to the oddity that the training wheels of Triple A seem necessary at this point in his career.
As far as I’m concerned, confidence issues are real, but they only carry so much weight. Thus far Minnesota has opted to look at Triple A as a breeding ground for Byron to feast and “find confidence” at the major league level. That’s all fine and well in theory, but if the results don’t translate to the highest level, nothing accomplished on the farm really matters. Instead of facing far inferior competition, having Byron working with James Rowson on a daily basis and getting acclimated to a consistent dose of the best competition seems like a much more fundamentally sound plan.
Legally the Twins can’t publicly say that Byron Buxton won’t be up in September because of service time considerations. Per Jeremy Nygaard’s calculations, Minnesota can save a year of service time if Buxton is held back beyond September 18. The Rochester Red Wings end their season on September 3, and from that point on there’d be nowhere else for him to go play. Byron not being in Houston with the Twins on September 4 would signify nothing short of service time manipulation.
The idea of service time value doesn’t typically come into play with an established big leaguer. A prospect like Eloy Jimenez or Vlad Guerrero Jr. being held back through September to gain a year in a lost season makes some sense. The Twins manipulating service time for a guy they think needs Triple A to jump-start his big-league bat every time it slumps, or he misses time is an entirely different scenario. Arguably nothing could be more important for the star center fielder than exposure. Getting at-bats, getting into games, and making up lost time in the big leagues is a must. Giving up those opportunities under the guise of future considerations seems laughable at the current juncture.
I had hoped Buxton would be in a Twins uniform by now. He could’ve gotten in a couple of games with Rochester and then begun to re-establish himself through the remainder of the MLB schedule. It’s fine that the move hasn’t been made yet, but that won’t be the case if it doesn’t happen when September 4th rolls around.
- Highabove, Monkeypaws, mikelink45 and 1 other like this