Back in March, Matthew Trueblood wrote an excellent article on Twins Daily about what a potential Byron Buxton extension would look like. Now, obviously this was before Buxton’s phenomenal (injury plagued, but still phenomenal) 2021 campaign. After the season Buxton had, his value for a future extension skyrocketed.
With Byron Buxton up until about 2019, the main question was always: “Will he be able to hit major league pitching?”. He always played phenomenal defense, ran the bases ridiculously well, and had an incredibly strong arm. He just had to put it together at the plate. Well, since the start of 2019, Buxton is 20th in the MLB in OPS and 4th in the MLB in slugging percentage. Buxton has really put it together at the plate in the last 3 seasons and it has been a joy to watch.
Before we get into his contract specifics, let’s highlight how special Byron Buxton is.
Byron Buxton helps the Twins win games, plain and simple. Since the beginning of 2019, the Twins are 104-68 when Buxton plays, and 106-106 when he does not. This means that they play at roughly a 98 win pace when he is on the field and an 81 win pace when he is not. This is the difference between not making the playoffs at all and getting home-field advantage in the playoffs. Let’s take a dive into what makes Buxton such a difference-maker for the Twins.
I mentioned earlier how Buxton has really found his stride with his swing. Back in May of 2019, towards the beginning of Buxton’s outbreak, Parker Hageman wrote a phenomenal article about Byron Buxton’s swing. He took a deep dive into the swing adjustments Buxton had made that year that led to his success. Ever since then, his career has taken off.
Buxton has been riddled with injuries his entire career, that is no secret. But since 2019, out of all players with a maximum of 700 plate appearances, Buxton leads with 102 extra base hits. The next closest player is Buxton’s teammate, Mitch Garver with 79 extra base hits. With limited appearances, Buxton is thriving.
Using Baseball Savant’s handy Affinity feature, you can see which players have the most similar batted ball profiles to each other. In 2021, the most similar batters to Buxton were Yordan Alvarez, Fernando Tatis Jr., Rafael Devers, Salvador Perez, Josh Donaldson, and Aaron Judge. Buxton is up there with the cream of the crop. If you follow baseball at all, you know all of these guys are absolute stars and Buxton’s name belongs in that conversation as well.
2021 was his best year yet. He had a 169 wRC+, had 42 extra base hits (19 home runs), and a 1.005 OPS. Buxton proved in 2021 that he couldn’t just hit, but absolutely MASH major league pitching.
Buxton has always been elite defensively, winning a platinum glove as the AL’s best defensive player in 2017. Since 2016, Buxton has 58 outs above average (OAA), the 5th most among all center fielders. All of the players ahead of him (Lorenzo Cain, Kevin Kiermaier, Billy Hamilton, and Ender Inciarte) played at least 140 more games than Buxton in that span. If Buxton had played 140 more games, he would have the most OAA by 10 outs. It is safe to say that when Buxton is healthy he is the best defensive CF in baseball. He also has an absolute cannon in the outfield. His arm strength has been measured at 99 MPH before, so he definitely has an above average arm.
Buxton has always been one of the fastest players in the MLB. In 2021, Buxton was in the 99th percentile in sprint speed. His average sprint speed was 30 ft/sec and he had the fastest average home to first time at 4.00 sec. Buxton is a game-changer on the bases and has made a huge impact on many games on the basepaths, most notably walking off the Detroit Tigers on a seemingly routine ground ball to the shortstop.
Since 2019, Buxton has been worth 8.1 fWAR in 187 games, or a pace of 7 fWAR per 162 games. To put that number into perspective, there were zero position players with a WAR of 7 or over in 2021. In the last full season, 2019, the only players with a WAR 7 or above were Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Marcus Semien, and Anthony Rendon.
Buxton’s WAR in 2021 was 4.2 over 61 games. Extrapolated to 162 games, that would be the equivalent of 11.2. That is absolutely ridiculous. That would be tied for the 17th best single season of all time in terms of WAR.
Just looking at his raw per 162 numbers, you would think that the Twins should sign Buxton to a 10 year, $500 million extension. Unfortunately, Buxton has been injury prone throughout his career. As of July 2021, Buxton had only played 181 of 484 possible games since 2018. It is hard to justify giving him a big extension if he isn’t going to be healthy for a majority of it.
In short, I would offer Buxton an extension over seven years. It will start in 2023 and go through 2029, his age 29 through 35 season. As Buxton ages, his defense and speed will most likely deteriorate and he will not be as valuable. You also have to factor in his injury history so you won’t be paying full price.
Consider the following:
- Since 2019, Buxton has played 187 of a possible 384 games, or 48% of possible games.
- Since 2019, Buxton has accumulated 8.1 WAR in 187 games, or 7 WAR/162 games
- According to Fangraphs, you should pay $8M/WAR.
- If Buxton were to play 162 games, he would be worth 7 WAR x $8M/WAR = $56M/year
This is obviously egregious, especially considering the Twins usually have a payroll from 125-140M.
According to spotrac, with the exception of the Dodgers, the top payrolls are right around $200M. We are going to assume those teams are able to use the $8M/WAR calculation
Since the Twins will use maximum 140M of payroll, 70% of what the top payrolls use, we will also use 0.7 as our multiplier for the WAR value calculation.
$8M/WAR x 0.7 = $5.6M/WAR
- Using our new 5.6M/WAR, he would be worth roughly $39M a year if he played 162.
I think this is fair for a player of his caliber. He has been an MVP level player the last 3 seasons, and shows no signs of stopping.
Since Buxton has only played about 48% of possible games, I would pay him 48% of that $39M per year.
- 39M x 0.48 = about $19M a year.
This is the base salary I would give Buxton. His base contract should be 7 years, $133 million
However, we should account for the fact that there is a chance he remains healthy. This is where it gets tricky. This is where I bring in incentives to the contract.
- Buxton’s 7 WAR per 162 is worth 0.043 WAR per game.
- The current contract is assuming he plays 80 games
- If Buxton plays 120 games, he will get the original 19 million plus an additional amount of money
We will determine this amount of money by multiplying his WAR per game by the additional 40 games he will be playing
- 40 games x 0.043 WAR per game = 1.7 WAR x $5.6M per WAR = $9.5M
If Buxton plays 120 games, he should earn an additional 10 million.
- For 130 games, he will be worth an additional 2.4 million using that formula
- For 140 games, he will be worth another 2.4 million
- And for 150, he will be worth 2.4 million more.
Base contract: 7 years, $133 million ($19M AAV)
120 games incentive: $9.5M/yr ($28.5M AAV)
130 games incentive: $2.4M/yr ($30.9M AAV)
140 games incentive: $2.4M/yr ($33.3M AAV)
150 games incentive: $2.4M/yr ($35.7M AAV)
- If Buxton plays 150 games, he could be making up to $35.7 million per year.
This is the contract I would propose to Buxton because he would be getting a good amount of guaranteed money and it also helps him understand that playing a certain amount of games could get him an absurd amount of money.
How does this contract compare?
A salary of 19M per year (if he meets no incentives) would make him the 27th highest paid position player in baseball. Since 2019, he is 33rd in WAR among all position players, so this base contract would be just about right. If he meets all of the incentives, he would be the highest paid position player in baseball, which is fair considering the amount of talent he has and his production over a full healthy season would be at an MVP level. I think at his peak, he will play about 120-130 games, making his salary between 28 and 31 million. This would put him in the range of the 5th to 8th highest position player in the league.
TL: DR version
Pay Buxton a base salary of $19 million a year for 7 years, with games played incentives from 120 games to 150 games of various amounts that could net him up to $35.7 million per year.
Byron Buxton is a generational type of talent and I haven’t seen anyone like him in a Twins uniform my whole life. It would be a mistake to let him go just because of financial concerns. He is a player that you would rather overpay than not pay at all, so priority number ONE this offseason needs to be extending him. If there’s one player to offer this type of contract to, it’s Buck.
Thank you for reading, and Go Twins.