BIG BUX: Buxton Signs $100M Extension
Not so long ago, reports cast a bleak light on Byron Buxton's future with the Twins. Extension talks appeared to be mired in a futile standstill. A trade sounded more likely than not.
Fanbase morale was nosediving, if my interactions with others and my own internal feelings were any indication.
Alas, to their immense credit, ownership and the front office got it done. Last Wednesday, Buxton inked a historic seven-year, $100 million contract that will keep him in Minnesota through 2028.
He said all along he wanted to stick with the club that drafted and developed him, in the place he'd come to call home. Last week Buxton made good on his word.
It's a unique deal that balances risk with reward for both sides. While the guaranteed base numbers are relatively low ($9M in 2022 and $15M in the following years), Buxton can boost his annual salaries – modestly by staying on the field, and massively by ranking near the top of AL MVP voting. Talk about betting on yourself.
We all know Buxton is an MVP-caliber player when on the field. For teams, the luxury of needing to pay for only a fraction of that potential if it doesn't come to fruition is basically unheard of.
This was truly a no-brainer for the Twins, and a vitally-needed salve for a wounded fanbase. While sticking to their strategic scruples, the front office managed to craft a creative framework that Buxton can feel good about. All he really asked for was a two-way commitment, which came in the form of a no-trade clause.
There's simply no knocking this amazing deal. Beyond the sheer baseball logic of such a team-friendly arrangement, there are deeper factors at play. Buxton is a world-class athlete and person whose actions convey his character. His loyalty to this franchise is no lip service, in spite of past friction and a surrounding roster that's currently in disrepair.
To let such a homegrown generational talent and spectacular ballpark attraction blossom elsewhere, despite this expression of loyalty, would've been unforgivable. The risk that Buxton comes up short of delivering on the guaranteed value of this contract is vastly outweighed by the specter of him making everyone forget about David Ortiz (and not in a good way).
The Twins needed to get this done and they did. It was such a pivotal and overwhelming big-picture priority for me that – and I know some will disagree – I won't be able to view this offseason as a complete failure regardless of what else happens from here.
Twins Add Bundy to Fill Rotation Spot
With all that said, the state of the pitching staff is a proverbial fly in the ointment.
As Thursday's lockout loomed, teams went into a free agent frenzy for starting pitching, and the Twins were mostly left out in the cold.
Mostly, but not entirely.
The club did sign right-hander Dylan Bundy to hopefully fill a spot in the middle or back of their rotation. As lower-tier flyers go, he's a respectable one – still under 30 with an intriguing history. Formerly a top draft pick and top prospect, Bundy flashed his upside in 2020 before turning in a total clunker last year.
While your mileage may vary on him as a player, no one can deny the contract is interesting. Bundy will earn $4 million next year, with an $11 million team option for 2023. Much like the Buxton deal, here we have a player betting on himself in a bold way.
If Bundy can bounce back and pitch well enough to sell the Twins on picking up his option, he can more than triple the total value of the deal. Motivation will not be an issue.
In many ways, this is a very typical veteran pitching target for the Twins front office, so we probably shouldn't be too surprised. Bundy has some success in his track record, but wasn't in high demand, in large part because of his proneness to home runs. We've seen this story before.
In some cases, the Twins have seen good results with this approach (Michael Pineda and Jake Odorizzi). In other cases, not so good (J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker). We'll see which way this one goes, but to suggest it's inherently doomed hints at a lot of recency bias.
Regardless, Minnesota has plenty of work left to do on the pitching front. With the upper tiers of the free agency mostly cleared out, they'll almost have to turn to the trade market in order to make at least one truly impactful splash in the rotation.
Newly re-signed Jake Cave was dropped from the 40-man roster to make room for Bundy.
Minaya, Coulombe, Megill Non-tendered
The bullpen, too, still needs plenty of attention. Minnesota is keeping its options open for relief pitching, and cleared some room last week on the roster. Juan Minaya and Danny Coulombe were both arbitration-eligible and slated to earn about $1 million next year. Instead, they were both non-tendered, although Coulombe was quickly re-signed to a minor-league deal.
Also non-tendered and re-signed was right-hander Trevor Megill, who had been claimed off waivers the same day. It sounds like this was merely a procedural move to keep him in the organization but off the 40-man. His big fastball will likely get a shot in spring training.
Joining Coulombe and Megill as likely spring non-roster invites is righty Jake Faria, who signed a minors deal. Faria was once highly thought of as a prospect in the Rays system, and had a nice rookie season back in 2017, but hasn't had much success to speak of since. I suspect the Twins are keying on his split-finger fastball, which held opponents to a .156 average and generated a 33.8% whiff rate amidst his struggles last year, while being thrown only 20% of the time.
Rounding out the arbitration picture, the Twins did tender a contract to Taylor Rogers (along with Mitch Garver and Luis Arraez), while striking deals with Tyler Duffey ($3.8M), Caleb Thielbar ($1.3M) and Jharel Cotton ($700K).
Almost $50 Million Left to Spend?
Whenever baseball ramps up again, the Twins will theoretically have quite a bit of spending money in hand, unless they intend to cut down payroll dramatically from where it stood in 2021. As you can see in the updated payroll projection below, they're currently about $48 million short of that figure. (Salaries for Garver, Arraez, and Rogers are still estimates since no agreements have yet been reached.)
The 40-man roster has two open spots following the addition of Bundy, and removals of Minaya, Coulombe, and Cave.
The Twins still have several critical holes to address, so they'll need all the flexibility they can get. This front office seems to operate best as stakes heighten in the late weeks of the offseason (many of their biggest moves have come in late January and February) so maybe they'll be in their element during a potential crunch time for roster-building if the lockout ends a few weeks ahead of spring training.
Then again, with the top-shelf supply from the free agent pitching and shortstop markets getting decimated over the past couple weeks, the Twins have really seen their spectrum of options shrink. The work is going to be cut out for them.