The Time For A Buxton Extension Is Now
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA TodayEntering his final season before the arbitration clock begins, Buxton is reaching a point where the Twins generally lock up their building-block players, for cost assurance if nothing else.
Like, deja vu. Get it? Alright it's dumb but let's get back to the point.
It was at this same stage in Brian Dozier's career that the Twins signed him to a four-year contract, which will wrap up this season. Because they timed the extension just ahead of Dozier's true breakout (he was an All Star the following July), the Twins have had him at a bargain the last few years, and will again in 2018.
Had they simply run out the thread with Dozier and gone year-to-year in arbitration, he would be costing them almost twice his $9 million salary this year. That was an underrated move by Terry Ryan and Co.
They were criticized at the time for failing to buy out any of Dozier's free agency, but that's a shortsighted complaint in my mind. Of course the Twins tried to get another year. But who could blame the second baseman's camp for resisting? He was already giving the team a great deal – if he grew in the way he no doubt believed he would.
What Dozier got out of this arrangement was comfort. He received assurance that even if things went unforeseeably amiss, or major injury struck, he'd still be getting nice annual raises. Now, he is set to cash in bigtime.
The looming spectre of Dozier's free agency is an unspoken impediment in the front office's talk of sustained long-term winning. It is also evidence of the urgency that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine should feel to hammer out something more substantial with Buxton, and soon.
There has been no buzz of extension negotiations between Dozier and the Twins. It seems clear that he's intent on testing the open market.
Losing him after this year would be a bummer, but not a catastrophe. He'll be into his 30s, and while he's not a guy you replace, Minnesota's system has grown deep in middle infielders.
Envisioning a similar scenario with Buxton is far more frightening.
Dozier debuted in the major leagues at age 24. Buxton turned 24 less than a month ago, following a season in which he won a Gold Glove and received MVP votes. If he simply plays out his years of team control, he'll be hitting free agency after the 2021 season. At that point he'll be 27 years old, and if his ascent thus far is any indication, it's scary to think how good he'll be.
Oh, also: Royce Lewis will theoretically be a fledgling big-leaguer.
The Twins need to get something done while they still a fair amount of leverage.
The same benefit that enticed Dozier – comfort – is magnified in Buxton's case.
While Dozier had proven quite durable throughout his pro career, Buxton hasn't enjoyed the same fortune. His brazen aggressiveness in center field, coupled with an ability to hurtle at ungodly speeds, has proven costly. Buck has missed a whole bunch of time, and while 2017 was largely a reprieve from the medley of injuries, it ended with a nasty wall collision in NYC.
Buxton and his reps at Jet Sports Management surely recognize the earning potential in his not-too-distant future, but also must weigh his inevitably hazardous style of play. The Twins could offer much peace of mind with a long-term contract that includes a ton of guaranteed money.
Perhaps the six-year, $80 million extension that Justin Morneau signed in 2008 could serve as a blueprint.
It was a team-friendly pact for the recent MVP, entering his first year of arbitration. But Morneau had taken a fastball to the helmet very early in his major-league career, so he saw the virtues of a safe play.
Incidentally, the decision worked out quite well in this case; Morneau earned $29 million in 2011 and 2012 while struggling to return from that fateful 2010 concussion. Had he simply taken an arbitration buyout, a la Dozier, the first baseman would've hit free agency for the first time in the wake of that brain injury.
There's a decent chance Buxton will rise quickly to a level that Morneau and Dozier – both undoubtedly all-time Twins greats – could never touch.
But as another all-time Twins great and center fielder once said, tomorrow is never promised to any of us. So Buxton has all the reason in the world to be open-minded if the team is approaching with a career-making contract.
And on the franchise's end, there should be little hesitance to offer a hell of a lot to make it worth his while. Byron Buxton is a player you go all in on.
- Cory Engelhardt, h2oface, Monkeypaws and 6 others like this