What To Do With Byron Buxton?
Image courtesy of Jerome Miron, USA TodayBuxton returns to a Rochester Red Wings team with 22 games remaining on the schedule. Their season runs through September 3rd, at which point (if not before) the Twins will need to make a decision.
They have two options:
A ) Recall Buxton, either once the Triple-A seasons ends or before then
B ) Send Buxton home once Rochester's season is over
I find myself torn here.
On the one hand...
I love Buxton. I love watching him play baseball. The Twins are a more interesting team to watch with him on the field, even while struggling.
I also want to see a very likable and (outwardly) unselfish guy get his due. Buck's an established major-league player, with more than a thousand plate appearances under his belt, and there's no question he can help the Twins in September, even if still broken at the plate. Assuming his toe is back to 100%, you won't find a better pinch runner or defensive replacement.
There's also this: The Twins kinda need Buxton to figure it out at the big-league level in short order. Patience is becoming an unaffordable luxury. He turns 25 this offseaosn and will be eligible for Super 2 arbitration.
Starting over again in the minors next year is hardly palatable. Might as well get him as many ABs as you can the rest of the way.
On the other hand...
There is a bigger picture at play, yielding two crucial considerations.
First: Buxton's health. The old sports adage "bubble-wrap this kid" has never seemed more plausible as a literal course of action. The 24-year-old has barely been able to go two weeks without getting hurt or aggravating a previous malady. On two occasions this year, the Twins have brought him off the disabled list before an injury was fully healed.
I'm not claiming medical malpractice here – these things happen. But why risk letting them happen any more in a totally lost season, for both player and club? Buxton's recklessly aggressive playing style puts him perpetually at risk, and that's before you account for the possibility that his left wrist, which he's injured significantly at least twice in the past, won't be a lingering issue, nor the fractured toe that never received much time to heal.
A jumpstart to the offseason, with an extra month to rest and recuperate, wouldn't be a bad thing from any perspective.
Second: Buxton's service time. As Mike Berardino pointed out when Buxton was optioned, Minnesota stands to gain an additional year of control (2022) should the center fielder fail to accrue another 13 days in the majors.
Pretty straightforward math here: Is one month of Buxton, utterly out of sorts at age 24, worth forfeiting a full season at age 28, when he's hopefully amidst his superstar prime?
On the surface it's a nonstarter. From a strategic standpoint, that one year of team control is enormously valuable, whether the Twins wanna run out his clock, or leverage it in extension or trade talks. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are well aware of this, to be sure.
And it's not like they would be totally unjustified in leaving Buxton off the September roster, should his performance in the final 22 games at Rochester resemble that in the first 22 (.215/.295/.380, 32% K-rate). When Minnesota exercised that his option in July, it was a directive to get healthy and on track, earn his way back. Thus far I'm not sure anyone can argue that he has.
But it's certainly not for lack of effort. No one who's ever met Buxton would question his heart or his commitment. The man has endured some absolute crap luck and in a way, opting not to recall Buck would be penalizing him for it. Pushing back free agency a year would be lovely from the team's perspective, but it'd be a major gut-punch for the player.
As Dr. Dre once said, "Sometimes the business end of this sh*t can turn your friends against you."
Shutting Buxton down in September would unquestionably be the sound business decision. But is it worth creating ill will with an incredibly talented player you view as a long-term cornerstone?
My view, right now, is that if Buxton shows serious improvement over these next three weeks in Triple-A – in terms of process more so than results – I bring him back up to play regularly in September.
But like I said, I'm torn. It appears that's true of the fan base at large. I asked Twitter what Buxton needs to do to warrant a September call-up, and here's a smattering of the wide-ranging replies:
I'm curious to hear what you all think. Call Buxton up in September? Sooner? Rest him and claim the extra year of service? Or should the outcome be merit-based, and if so, how do you make meaningful determinations over a couple dozen games?