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What should the Twins offer Byron Buxton?


Andrew Mahlke

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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.

5-Tool Player

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.

Hitting

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.

Defense

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.

Speed

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. 

Overall Value

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.

Injuries

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.

Extension structure

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.

So,

  • 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.

Besides injuries.

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.

Contract Summary

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

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8 minutes ago, Doctor Gast said:

Andrew, love your article! Love your common sense backed up with unbias data. I encourage you to write as often as you can because you're a pleasure to read and to disarm any false ideas out there. 

This is a fair contract (the # of years could be tricky), no more fooling around. Get it done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BTW, what has been offered?

To answer my own ?. It looks like they offered him 70M for  base pay. This I've heard he has no problem with, it's the incentives where there's a problem. To me Buck isn't asking too much.

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44 minutes ago, Doctor Gast said:

Andrew, love your article! Love your common sense backed up with unbias data. I encourage you to write as often as you can because you're a pleasure to read and to disarm any false ideas out there. 

This is a fair contract (the # of years could be tricky), no more fooling around. Get it done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BTW, what has been offered?

Thank you I really appreciate that! We need to lock Buxton up for the long-term I agree.

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Thanks for this, was a pleasure to read. 7/133 actually seems more than fair to Buxton. I wouldn't make him the highest paid player in baseball. He's not Mike Trout, because Trout has actually proven he can stay healthy and win MVP's. 

7/133 would be a huge gamble for the Twins. If Buxton wants more than that I'd honestly try and trade him this offseason. 

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I haven't figured out the best spot to bat Buxton in the order. Of course, it would help if there were better batters to put around him.

 

Too often people equate speed with stealing bases, but a lot of it is taking that extra base and testing a fielder, or coming home on a sacrifice.

 

You have to figure the Buxton camp almost wants to see the arbitration process. He will, undoubtedly, go forward towards the $10 million mark. What the Twins offer for their end will go along ways towards Byron playing ball with the Twins.

 

His next alternative is to take a qualifying offer at the end of 2022. Buxton's best bet would be to be a trade piece during the season, which means a team will pay "how much" for half a season of play.

 

Buxton and his agent know full well that if Byron has a good, solid 2022 season, he can easily get $100 million for 4 years. If he excels, maybe even push that envelope more. Four years pushes him into an arena of another contract, as a corner outfielder. Would that multi-year contract exceed, say, $33 million for three more seasons?

 

The Twins best bet would be incentive LOOOOOONG-TERM contract, like the 7/$133 fielded above with play incentives on top of that. There was no reason for Byron to take the Twins 2021 mid-season offer of many many years and around $80 million or so with LOTS of incentives.

 

He is playing purely for 2023 at this point, with hopes that he stays healthy all season and has production going on around him.

 

We all ask "how much is enough" and so many of us, in a similar situation, would not want to be taken advantage of. Yet a team CAN only focus so much of their salary on a single player and, sadly, with Buxton there are questionable futures attached. 

 

It is sad that in baseball there is no crying, but it all comes down to money in so many players and how they see their love of the sport. 

 

 

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The tough thing is that you don’t know how many games he’s going to play. He’s only had one (1) season where he’s played 100+ games.

You know how good he is going to be when healthy: One of the best players in baseball. In 2021, he put up 4.2 WAR in 61 games. Over a 162 game season, that’s a ridiculous 11.1 WAR. (That tells me that his 2021 success wouldn’t be sustainable over a full season) That being said, he’s going to be a Mike Trout-type player when healthy.

If you extend him, you should make the base 60 games/year, which would be about $25M/year. So, I would do 4 years/$100M with incentives galore. 

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I think you may be a little high on your base. Front loaded 7/125 would be a reasonable offer. I don't like incentives based on games played but rather things like HR, RBI, H, OA, OBPA, etc. Games played can be manipulated by management and I've seen times that some players have been upset thinking they were held out because of contract concerns.

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This is an excellent, well thought out article about his potential contract extension. Well done! The AAV doesn’t scare me. Neither does the incentives to be honest. It’s the number of years that terrifies me.

This negotiation is one of the most unique discussions in MLB history. There’s frankly very few, if any (I can’t think of one) examples in the past with players who have only played 100+ games once in their controllable years with a team. I’m glad my employment is not in consideration making this decision. 

If we end up extending him through his mid 30s, we have to be very confident his newly found power is sustainable. Otherwise, halfway through that contract he’ll become an anchor in the organization instead of the beaming light of hope he is today. 

If I were Derek Falvey, I would try like hell to make that extension 5 years or less. I’m way more comfortable with the potential of losing him at 32/33, rather than being contractually obligated to him through 35. 

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On 10/20/2021 at 1:09 PM, Doctor Gast said:

Andrew, love your article! Love your common sense backed up with unbias data. I encourage you to write as often as you can because you're a pleasure to read and to disarm any false ideas out there. 

I concur 100%. Promote @Andrew Mahlketo the front page of TD! 

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I appreciate the effort and math that went into this.  I personally would probably shave another 10% off of every tier and the base and would feel more comfortable.  I've always thought the $/WAR figures were a tad silly and even with your excellent work recalibrating them I still think it start too high.

Great read!

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Nice, well thought out and explained article Andrew.  I, personally have no idea what they should pay him.  I only know, that when he PLAYS...he's very good.  Your article lays a foundation of how the Twins (and Byron as well) should approach this.  A solid "BASE" salary, and then incentives for games played to reach an overall salary.  This protects the Twins should Byron, once again, get injured.  It also protects the potential future earnings of Buxton and would incentivize him to remain a Twin.  And look, once the Twins and Byron settle on what he's "worth" if the Twins are unable to put together a pitching staff (like the Angels with Trout) then teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox and Mets will STILL be willing to trade for him.  But as a front office, the Twins can't just let him walk.  They MUST get a deal done.

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Buxton extension is one of the hardest things to figure out.  When he is healthy and on field he can be the best in baseball, but he is only on field half the time.  It would make sense to offer him something like a 5 to 7 year deal, with options at the end allowing him to opt out after like 3 seasons to try and cash in again if he stays healthy over those 3 years.  Including in games played incentives to boost his pay over that time too.  

The question is, will he be willing to accept a contract like that without testing the market?  If I was his agent I would advise him to demand full value contract without games played incentives on the value he has shown when he plays.  If Twins balk at it, then test the market.  I bet there is a team out there that will give him what he is seeking, and if he fails to play they eat the cost.  Teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, or other big market teams can afford to push the luxary tax line and eat his lost costs if he does not play.  

If no team is willing to, then maybe he comes back to something similar to the offer I mentioned.  Signing Buxton to long term deal at big bucks will be one of the biggest gambles of any mid-market or lower team. It will still be a little bit of a gamble for a large market team. 

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3 hours ago, Trov said:

Buxton extension is one of the hardest things to figure out.  When he is healthy and on field he can be the best in baseball, but he is only on field half the time.  It would make sense to offer him something like a 5 to 7 year deal, with options at the end allowing him to opt out after like 3 seasons to try and cash in again if he stays healthy over those 3 years.  Including in games played incentives to boost his pay over that time too.  

The question is, will he be willing to accept a contract like that without testing the market?  If I was his agent I would advise him to demand full value contract without games played incentives on the value he has shown when he plays.  If Twins balk at it, then test the market.  I bet there is a team out there that will give him what he is seeking, and if he fails to play they eat the cost.  Teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, or other big market teams can afford to push the luxary tax line and eat his lost costs if he does not play.  

If no team is willing to, then maybe he comes back to something similar to the offer I mentioned.  Signing Buxton to long term deal at big bucks will be one of the biggest gambles of any mid-market or lower team. It will still be a little bit of a gamble for a large market team. 

I think you're significantly overvaluing Buxton's leverage (and his on field value) right now and looking at things a little too simply. I don't see Buxton as an MVP talent. I see him as an All Star talent based on some scary peripherals like BB/K rates and small sample sizes.

1. How do the Twins benefit from the aforementioned contract? It boils down to a 2-3 year deal where if Buxton sucks, he stays for 3 more seasons and if he does well, he leaves. Those types of contracts are for elite talent players who have backed up that elite performance across full seasons before and just had a down year. 

2. This one is easy. The Twins don't "balk" at the full guaranteed, full value extension, they trade Buxton immediately and let somebody else deal with primadonna-like demands without discussing the contract extension discussion publicly.

3. The idea Buxton can test the market, prove there is no market and then come back to the Twins and get their best offer weeks or months later isn't realistic. The Twins, like any other team, will move on and not wait for Buxton to come back. If Buxton did come back to the Twins in that scenario, he'd be in a position of no leverage and having to accept a much lower value. Lance Lynn found out the very hard way offers aren't forever when he declined the Cardinals' OQ and subsequent offers (including multi-year offers) from other teams before he settled for the lower 1 year $12MM Twins contract. I don't think any team in baseball would give Buxton more than $10MM-$15MM per year for 2-3 years guaranteed right now. 

Negotiation is just risk calculation. What is the team willing to risk vs. what is the player willing to risk?

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Great article!  The Buxton situation is complex I agree.  How can any rational person put him in the same category as Mike Trout and others.  Those players have proven their superstar status by PLAYING and PRODUCING superstar stats over years.  People always dismiss his injuries and games missed.  You can't do that anymore than you think by expanding this year's part time stats over 162 games makes him a superstar.  I hope they keep him at a reasonable salary not these super salaries normally set for REAL superstars.  Remember he is a career .248 hitter over 7 seasons with the Twins.  How do you grossly overpay someone who's been a part time player on the hope he might play a full season and might produce like a full time player.  Very risky.

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If a 7/$80 base is agreeable, the incentives almost don't matter, provided the total pay for any one year caps out at around $30mil or so. I certainly would pick nits at the proposal by @Andrew Mahlke, going for a lower guarantee with higher incentives, especially for 150 GP, but I don't think his proposal is unreasonable by any stretch. 

The data is pretty obvious over the previous three seasons combined that when Buxton is written onto the lineup card, the Twins are one of the best teams in MLB. His offense is fine, but the difference he makes on defense and on the bases is (IMO and the opinion of Eno Saris in a general sense) undervalued by the metrics. 

It goes to show that this doesn't have to be that difficult. If Buxton reaches 150 games played, the Twins are almost certainly in the playoffs and ownership is raking in that playoff related revenue to pay Buxton.

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