On Tuesday, Dan Hayes and Ken Rosenthal bylined a report in The Athletic with the headline: Byron Buxton’s future with the Twins remains in limbo as team gauges trade interest, potential extension offers. The article depicts a team struggling to decide whether it should trade its best player with one year remaining under contract, or hold him for the 2022 season.
The option that seems most obvious and desirable — striking a long-term extension with this generational talent in his prime — doesn't really seem to be on the table, even if it hasn't been ruled out.
"Chairman Jim Pohlad, according to major-league sources, is reluctant to move Buxton, knowing such a decision potentially would upset a fan base tired of seeing the team part with homegrown stars," per The Athletic.
Pohlad's absolutely right in his assessment of how trading Buxton will be perceived by Twins fans, who just watched Jose Berrios sign an extension with Toronto. Fortunately, it would seem nobody is in better position than he to ensure Buxton sticks around. Pohlad and his ownership group have the power to greenlight an offer that keeps Buxton in Minnesota long-term, and such a framework — from all indications — is extremely achievable under team-friendly terms.
The article from Hayes and Rosenthal reiterates that a 7-year, $80 million offer was extended in July, which we've heard before, but later offers up this detail: "Sources said talks about an incentive-laden extension in July broke down because of the Twins’ unwillingness to push the potential total value to $100 million."
Back in July, reports indicated Buxton's side was amenable to that guaranteed amount of $80 million (which surprised me), but that an agreement couldn't be reached over the incentive structure. In my mind, I figured Buxton's camp must have been demanding some extravagant bonuses that could've done something like double the base amount.
Yet, the wording of this new report — talks about an incentive-laden extension in July broke down because of the Twins’ unwillingness to push the potential total value to $100 million — well, that sure sounds like the team was not open to a contract that would maximize at $100 million.
And if true, that's nothing short of embarrassing. Shameful. And egregiously foolish.
I mean, come on, that would average out to about $14 million per year. That's Ricky Nolasco money, for a homegrown MVP-caliber player in his prime years.
I'm having a really hard time connecting the dots here. If Twins ownership is adamant about keeping Buxton, and the center fielder's side is open to a reasonable deal, then what is the hold-up?
Why are the Twins mired in internal debate over whether to trade Buxton or let him leave as a free agent, rather than opting for the best choice, which is neither of those?
Here are a few possibilities I can conjure. If you have others, I'd love to hear them in the comments.
The reported numbers are inaccurate. Hayes and Rosenthal are two of the more respected writers in the biz, and I trust they're providing a realistic view of the overall dynamic, but that doesn't mean every single detail is spot-on. Perhaps there are some specifics getting obscured in the communication loop. Or maybe they're receiving false info from a biased source with an agenda. (Ostensibly, this would be Buxton's agent, but I'm not sure what their end-game would be in leaking a low-ball offer?) Also: the numbers that've been reported would have be a loooong ways off to not make sense for the Twins.
The Twins front office doesn't believe in Buxton. Or at least doesn't have enough confidence in his durability and aging regression to feel that a long-term extension is in their interest. I find this kind of hard to believe, but when you look at the evidence available to us — an owner expressing his desire to retain a player who is seemingly open to reasonable terms, and a front office that isn't making it happen — it's a plausible explanation.
Buxton has no interest in signing an extension in Minnesota. This would run contrary to what he's said publicly, but it'd hardly be the first time a pro athlete gave lip service to appease fans. Maybe the bridge truly was burned when the Twins held Buxton in the minors in September of 2018. Or maybe Buck has a yearning to return to the South where he was raised. Or maybe he simply recognizes an opportunity to earn a much bigger payday one year from now if he can deliver in 2022. Sadly, I think this is probably the most likely answer behind everything, and also the only one that completely ties the Twins' hands.
Pohlad is bluffing, and doesn't really want to pay up. It's the favored explanation for many, I'm sure. Maybe it's true, and Pohlad is portraying himself to media as the good guy who fought for Buxton before an inevitable trade. But if the reported number he's targeting is anywhere close to correct, there's no reason that Twins shouldn't be able to keep Buxton while building a quality team around him under the payroll parameters that have become standard under this ownership.
One thing I will say: if Pohlad is pushing to prevent a Buxton trade solely to mitigate fan blowback, knowing the team won't be able to re-sign him (which is one way to read the opening in the Athletic article), the front office needs to shut him out and not listen. Team strategy cannot be dictated by such factors.
Trading Buxton will be a bitter pill to swallow, but it may result in making the best of a bad situation. A totally self-inflicted bad situation, if reports around these negotiations are to be believed.