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2008-2016: the Twins, centerfield, and wasted talent


Recently, I was doing some really boring work in the yard, mulling over how we may have watched the final game of Byron Buxton in a Twins uniform. I certainly hope that's not the case and will likely write a lengthy post about it another time but I'd put the odds of him being traded this offseason at no lower than 40%.

centerfielders.jpg

As I kinda seethed over the idea of Buxton being traded, it led to me to start thinking of how many years were wasted before he turned into the beastly hitter he is today.

That led me to start thinking about his predecessor, Aaron Hicks... and holy ****, the same thing happened to him, too!

So then I started thinking about Carlos Gomez and... wow, the Twins wasted so much centerfield talent in the wake of losing Torii Hunter after the 2007 season.

Carlos Gomez (2008-2009)
So let's go back in time a bit... In the offseason leading up to 2008, we saw Torii Hunter sign with the Los Angeles Anaheim Angels of Angeles Anaheim and the Twins, worried about losing Johan Santana the following year, traded him to the Mets with the centerpiece being Carlos Gomez, their young centerfielder.

The Mets had obviously rushed Gomez to the majors, as he posted just a 55 OPS+ in his age 21 season. The Twins, obviously feeling some pressure at the loss of Hunter, continued to throw Gomez out there every day and he continued to be very bad at hitting a baseball. There was some questioning of whether Gomez had any business in MLB and the Twins did him no favors. He ended his Twins career with the following line:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
2008-2009 MIN 290 963 892 130 221 39 12 10 87 47 18 47 214 .248 .293 .352 .645 73 314 8 11 10 3 0

Despite his otherworldly defense, Gomez was at best a mediocre player with the Twins. But then he was traded and posted the following line for his years in Milwaukee:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
2010-2014 MIL 623 2262 2047 322 547 102 24 79 245 145 30 136 521 .267 .324 .456 .780 110 934 39 43 22 14 4

Yikes. So, yeah, uh... this is only the beginning.

Aaron Hicks (2013-2015)
Fans expected Hicks to be TNGTCF (The Next Great Twins CenterFielder), washing the bad taste of Gomez in Milwaukee out of our mouths and returning us to the glory days of Puckett and Hunter. It didn't really work out for us this time, either. Hicks, fresh off a very good AA season in 2012, opened the 2013 MLB season as the Twins' starting centerfielder. This decision was also questioned at the time and the results ended up being Carlos Gomez Redux. It became so bad at one point in Hicks' Twins career that he gave up switch-hitting and didn't tell his coaches. No one seemed to have any clue what was going on, least of all Hicks. Over three seasons with the Twins, he posted this painful line:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
2013-2015 MIN 247 928 819 107 184 30 6 20 78 26 9 94 206 .225 .306 .349 .655 81 286 8 4 6 5 2

He bounced back and forth in the minors a bit before ultimately being traded to the Damned Yankees for the empty uniform of John Ryan Murphy. And then he proceeded to do this in a Yankees uniform over the following five seasons:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
2016-2020 NYY 461 1769 1498 245 360 69 6 68 219 29 14 243 356 .240 .346 .431 .776 108 645 22 7 4 17 3

Hicks has been injured and the Yankees were a bit over-eager in extending him but it's hard to do anything but cringe at that line and all the wasted (cheap) years of Hicks the Twins gave away.

Byron Buxton (2015-present)
Buxton and Hicks had a single year of overlap as Buxton debuted as a 21 year-old rookie in 2015 alongside Hicks' final season in a Twins uniform. Buxton was... not good... and the trend continued. After posting a miserable 57 OPS+ in 139 plate appearances as a rookie, the Twins said "looks good, he's our centerfielder of the future!" and promptly traded Aaron Hicks that offseason.

Buxton continued to be not good. Like Gomez and Hicks before him, aggressive promotion and lack of coaching consistency plagued Byron as he constantly changed his swing, stance, and approach. The Twins wanted him to be a groundball speed guy while the game itself was screaming for Byron to become Willie Mays, not Willie Mays Hayes. Over the two seasons of Byron struggling under the Ryan administration, he posted the following line:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
2015-2016 MIN 138 469 427 60 94 26 7 12 44 12 4 29 162 .220 .274 .398 .672 80 170 3 4 6 3 0

Then came Falvey and Levine. While they didn't implement many coaching changes over the 2016-2017 offseason, changes were coming. Buxton had his only healthy, full season while posting the following line:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
2017 23 MIN AL 140 511 462 69 117 14 6 16 51 29 1 38 150 .253 .314 .413 .728 93 191 1 4 5 2 2 *8/HD MVP-18,GG

In 2018, we basically didn't see Byron Buxton in Minnesota, as the all-too-familiar injury bug limited his playing time in the majors. But when he returned in 2019 with a more stabilized swing, approach, and comfort level, Beast Mode Buxton emerged, finally showing Twins fans the player they anticipated watching since that June day in 2012. Since 2019, Buxton has done the following:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
2019-2021 MIN 187 684 636 117 176 56 4 42 105 25 5 34 166 .277 .321 .575 .897 137 366 5 9 2 3 1

On a per-game basis, he's probably the best player in baseball.

Which makes all of this the more sad. We've watched future All-Star centerfielders grow up in Minnesota but leave before we see true greatness emerge in them. Which is why it's not only important for this front office to sign Buxton, it's far and away the most important thing they can do this offseason. Instead of giving up on yet another fantastic up-the-middle talent before they're ready to shine, the Twins need to stop making the same mistake and do one thing:

Pay. The. Man.

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Pay him what? The Twins have already offered to Pay. The. Man. What would Buxton get in free agency. Today. Right now? 2/3 years max. $30-60MM, max. The Twins have offered him $80MM + unknown incentives. Buxton declined and then promptly went on the disabled list for the 346th time in his career over the next two months. 

Buxton isn't worth his WAR production because the Twins need to Pay. The. Man. and then Pay. Another. Man. to be a starting center fielder for the 80 games a year Buxton misses while still Paying. Two. More. Men. to the be the starting corner outfielders when the other starting fielder moves to the corner and one of those guys has to ride the bench for 80 games a year while the 4th outfielder gets demoted to AAA.

The Twins need to allocate money to the right players, the players who not only help them win one game, but win games across the entire season. If the Twins can figure out a reasonable deal for Buxton, great, but he's hardly worth breaking the bank.

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40 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

What would Buxton get in free agency. Today. Right now? 2/3 years max. $30-60MM, max.

There's a team out there willing to give Buxton a single season $25m contract if he wants a make-good contract. The upside is just too damned high for a team like the Dodgers not to jump at that opportunity.

I think Buxton pretty easily gets a 4-5 year, $100m+ deal on the free market today if that's the route he wants to take.

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I think he could get 1 year and 25M, for sure.  But if a team is giving him 4 years that AAV comes down significantly.  

1/25M is the high end of the AAV scale.  (Maybe even a bit higher)

4/70 is about the most I see him getting in guarantees.

All subject to change based on his durability next year.  That's why I think you go 7/120 with incentives and you can close this out.

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4 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

Which makes all of this the more sad. We've watched future All-Star centerfielders grow up in Minnesota but leave before we see true greatness emerge in them. Which is why it's not only important for this front office to sign Buxton, it's far and away the most important thing they can do this offseason. Instead of giving up on yet another fantastic up-the-middle talent before they're ready to shine, the Twins need to stop making the same mistake and do one thing:

Pay. The. Man.

Everything about this article is perfection, Brock. Please print it out and tack it to Falvey's office door.

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This reminds me of a post I made about 3 or 4 years ago concerning the loss of Hunter and the ongoing ramifications it had on the team. In short, losing Hunter meant they HAD to find a CF in their Santana deal, not necessarily the best package, and then rush him as they didn't have a backup plan.  And then, as pointed out, the same for Hicks, etc.

IIRC, and some may have a different recollection, the Twins offered a deal for 4yrs that was mostly fair at the time and he was close to accepting before the Angels swooped in for 5yrs and about $5M more per and blew the Twins out of the water. 

One of the interesting things is Buxton's development over the past few seasons. I'm not here to blast the previous administration, but former players have been rather outspoken about everyone being "pigeonholed" in to a similar approach and many didn't achieve success until they broke out on their own in their approach.

One thing this current FO and system have received notoriety for is a more tailored approach to each player/pitcher as an individual. When Buxton was allowed to do what felt "right" to him he began to take off. A shame some of the previous CF options, and others I'm sure, didn't have that kind of developmental approach. I also don't think this FO would have gone in to a year rushing someone without having some sort of fallback option.

Not going to go in to details at this time, but I agree with Brock: PAY THE MAN, in regard to Buxton.

He's just too important. Find a way between both parties to be satisfied and get it done!

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Denard Span had 9 WAR with Washington in the 3 years (2013-2015) after he was traded for Alex Meyers who put up 1 WAR for his entire career. Keeping Span would have allowed Hicks more time to develop. As a comparison Hicks has produced 12.9 WAR over his career with more than half of that coming in his first 2 seasons with the NYY. 

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30 minutes ago, Eris said:

Denard Span had 9 WAR with Washington in the 3 years (2013-2015) after he was traded for Alex Meyers who put up 1 WAR for his entire career. Keeping Span would have allowed Hicks more time to develop. As a comparison Hicks has produced 12.9 WAR over his career with more than half of that coming in his first 2 seasons with the NYY. 

I excluded any players who were traded for prospects, no matter the return. Given where the Twins were at the time, trading MLB talent for prospects was the right move, even if the prospect didn’t pan out. All that means to me is they should have chosen a better trading partner and/or different prospects. 

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7 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

I excluded any players who were traded for prospects, no matter the return. Given where the Twins were at the time, trading MLB talent for prospects was the right move, even if the prospect didn’t pan out. All that means to me is they should have chosen a better trading partner and/or different prospects. 

Understood, but agree to disagree somewhat. Meyers was a consensus top prospect when acquired. Granted there was a lot of hyperbole he was Randy Johnson-ish, which was fine.  He didn't have to be that. But it sure seemed like we got something really good at the time.

Somewhat ironically, we have drafted and developed our own "tall man" in Ober. No comparison to Johnson to be sure, just darkly humorous to me.

But interesting to me is nobody has mentioned the almost simultaneous trade of Revere for May. While we can disagree forever about how he was handled in regard to Pelfrey and a rotation spot, May did turn out to be a decent bullpen option. And I wanted the Twins to keep him. And he had a solid 2021 with the Mets. But he was paid $7M to be a decent RP? Sorry, over pay.

But we are straying from the original OP.

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We had the perfect situation of Puckett mentoring Hunter, then he started to mentor Span which started to mentor Revere. They rushed to trade both Span and Revere w/o anyone to mentor Hicks or Buxton. They were lacking mentoring to help w/ their development and we all suffered for it. All because we want prematurely to trade away our CF treasures. Hope they stop playing games with Buxton and come to a realistic balance of base and incentive pay.

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I'm going to flip the coin for a moment.

Has there EVER been a team who has played 7 different starting CF in a game in modern MLB history? That's how bad the injury situation was for our beloved Twins in 2021. The only shock there is Astudillo didnt get a start there, LOL.

Kepler and Cave were supposed to be options there.  We knkw how that turned out due to injuries.  But as much as we want to bang on the season, disappointment, the FO, etc, to find blame and the such, shouldn't we also offer up a little praise to the FO and the coaching staff and the players to acknowledge they did a good job with working Refsnyder and Gordon in to CF on the fly? 

I'm just saying the guys in charge right now might be a little smarter and more savy than the guys before.

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Pay Buxton, he is an elite player, a difference maker defensively and hitting. Give him the incentives, it is a win-win, if he is hurt Twins don't have to pay incentives, if he is healthy Twins get Buxton's production and is well worth the incentive money. I believe they came to an agreement on the guaranteed money but not on incentives. 

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If the Twins trade Buxton, hope they get a good return. I'm sure they ARE hoping Lewis or Martin will be the centerfielder, now, for the future. But we may see a replay as the guys are not ready.

 

Add in Span and Revere. And then Hunter returning.

 

Of course, Joe Benson would've solved all our centerfielder issues for decades if.....

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Let him go. They will use Buxton's salary as the unspoken reason that can't pay anybody else. Remember the Joe Mauer contract?

Plus they can't have Donaldson's contract and Buxton's contract on their payroll. Find another activity to immerse yourselves into....I see a pattern here. Not worth it.

Hey....looks like Eddie has found a playoff spot. Who needs him........we have prospects!!!!!!!

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Yeah, I'm all on board with signing Buxton. Just like Mauer's contract, it will almost certainly not meaningfully impact how they build the team going forward.

The Twins definitely did bungle the Gomez and Hicks situations. I'm less angry about them now than I was back in the day though. Both players got to near super-star heights once they left the Twins, but both had pretty swift returns to Earth. Gomez's peak occurred while the Twins were at their utter worst too; his talent would have been squandered here. Hicks turned it on when the Twins were just coming out of their rebuild, but they still weren't a particularly good team. The Twins might have actually lucked out on that one. No one would want the team tied to the contract he signed with the Yankees.

And, no, I'm not at all drawing parallels to the current CF. Buxton is infinitely more talented than Hicks. Extend him.

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8 minutes ago, roger said:

Could any of us foresee a starting outfield come next August of Martin, Buxton and Lewis? 

I don’t see Lewis playing much OF in 2022, I think they will be feeding him reps at SS. I do think Martin’s best fit is in CF, and long term if he’s going to be play corner OF he’ll need to develop more power. I would hope Celestino is in the majors by August, but like Lewis he also makes more sense in CF. Though having a very speedy outfield would be nice!

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Whether they are freak or not I do worry about how injury prone Buxton has been. Literally not being able to complete a full season he is the ultimate risk.  That being said when he plays he is a true difference maker.  He is the ultimate offensive threat as you don't want to walk him as that likely turns into a double.  You don't want to give him too many good pitches or he will likely just hit one over the fence.  With his speed pitchers are almost forced to pitch to him so I think his offensive talent remains elite.

He is most likely an MVP candidate every\any year he can play near a full season.  I don't think his talent is really replaceable as he is kind of a unicorn type player.  I think the Twins should think long and hard about that extension.  I think they have to take the risk and sign him.  He is the only elite offensive\defensive talent they have on this team.  Losing him would really set them back IMO.

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1 hour ago, roger said:

Could any of us foresee a starting outfield come next August of Martin, Buxton and Lewis? 

No, unless some rookie come out of spring training red hot, and that means less than one showing he still belongs in AA.

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17 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

I excluded any players who were traded for prospects, no matter the return. Given where the Twins were at the time, trading MLB talent for prospects was the right move, even if the prospect didn’t pan out. All that means to me is they should have chosen a better trading partner and/or different prospects. 

Not a prospect, but couldn't it also be argued that, given where the Twins were at the time, trading Gomez for two seasons of JJ Hardy was the right move? Span had been fantastic (and we signed him to a cheap extension that same offseason), and as you note, Gomez hadn't done anything yet at the plate (and we had already burned through his pre-arb seasons).

We just gave away Hardy a year later for nothing, then cratered...

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4 minutes ago, Otto von Ballpark said:

Not a prospect, but couldn't it also be argued that, given where the Twins were at the time, trading Gomez for two seasons of JJ Hardy was the right move? Span had been fantastic (and we signed him to a cheap extension that same offseason), and as you note, Gomez hadn't done anything yet at the plate (and we had already burned through his pre-arb seasons).

We just gave away Hardy a year later for nothing, then cratered...

Yeah, and I wavered talking about that in my OP but decided the post was too long as it was.

Maybe my point was lost in the shuffle a bit but most of my problem comes in the form of wasted seasons. The Twins felt pressured to keep Gomez in MLB, even though he wasn't ready to be there. That resulted in them essentially losing seasons of Gomez and ultimately trading him before he turned into the player he would later become. The Twins later made the same mistake with Hicks after trading Revere. Then they traded Hicks, which forced them to make the same mistake again with Buxton when it was obvious he needed better, more consistent coaching.

A lot of wasted years and talent in that paragraph.

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18 hours ago, Otto von Ballpark said:

Not a prospect, but couldn't it also be argued that, given where the Twins were at the time, trading Gomez for two seasons of JJ Hardy was the right move? Span had been fantastic (and we signed him to a cheap extension that same offseason), and as you note, Gomez hadn't done anything yet at the plate (and we had already burned through his pre-arb seasons).

We just gave away Hardy a year later for nothing, then cratered...

Trading away Hardy for nothing was the move I found most inexplicable in all of this.

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On 10/12/2021 at 8:17 PM, Eris said:

Denard Span had 9 WAR with Washington in the 3 years (2013-2015) after he was traded for Alex Meyers who put up 1 WAR for his entire career. Keeping Span would have allowed Hicks more time to develop. As a comparison Hicks has produced 12.9 WAR over his career with more than half of that coming in his first 2 seasons with the NYY. 

You are right - Span is one of the really good Twins and had an excellent career.  His career was 27.9 WAR.

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I'll say it again... If you trade a major league hitter for a pitcher be prepared for it to be a bad trade.  Look at the many examples in Twins history. Cruz for Ryan & Strotman will be the next. Span for Meyers was a classic.  Never trade a major league hitter for a pitcher. It will come back and bite you almost every time. :)

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16 minutes ago, Thegrin said:

I'll say it again... If you trade a major league hitter for a pitcher be prepared for it to be a bad trade.  Look at the many examples in Twins history. Cruz for Ryan & Strotman will be the next. Span for Meyers was a classic.  Never trade a major league hitter for a pitcher. It will come back and bite you almost every time. :)

The Twins also traded for guys like Eric Milton, though. It doesn't always go badly but the unpredictability of pitching prospects makes it riskier than trading for a hitter.

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