The Minnesota Twins will have plenty of tough decisions ahead of the trade deadline. And without any hope of making the playoffs this season, they will have plenty of options, including a full-blown fire sale. If they really start to dismantle the roster, the possibility of moving on from Byron Buxton will generate a lot of buzz.
Buxton is one of the most frustrating players on the Twins due to his injury history, but he also might be their most attractive trade chip. With Buxton under contract through next season, they could dangle him in a trade for a package of prospects or a Trevor Bauer-type deal that could help them reload for 2022.
Reloading for next season should be Minnesota’s top objective at the deadline. And to do so, they have to hold on to Buxton.
There are plenty of reasons to trade Buxton, and not all of them are financial. With Buxton’s injury history, the Twins may have run out of patience. Buxton hasn’t played in over 100 games in a season since 2017, and another trip to the injured list in May could push management over the edge.
Plus, Buxton’s trade value may never be higher. Buxton hit .370/.408/.772 with nine homers and five stolen bases over 24 games, earning the AL Player of the Month award before he got hurt. The Twins went 9-15 in those games, but Buxton recorded a 2.6 WAR, which ranks second among MLB outfielders.
Buxton’s hot streak could be seen as a fluke, but he’s been producing at this level for the past three seasons. Dating back to the start of the 2019 season, Buxton has played in 150 games, hitting .280/.319/.578 with 32 homers, 90 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. There is still a concern about his 133 games missed during that timeframe, but his path to free agency is similar to George Springer’s.
In 2019 Springer hit .292/.383/.591 with 39 homers and 96 RBI but only had one stolen base. Although his numbers dropped to .265/.359/.540 with 14 homers and 32 RBI last year, the Toronto Blue Jays signed Springer to a 6-year, $150 million contract last offseason.
While Springer had spent less time on the IL, there are some other factors in Buxton’s favor. He will be two years younger (28) than Springer (30) when he hits free agency next offseason. With more speed, better defense, and the glimpse of superstar potential we have seen, Buxton could command a haul if he performs at the same level heading into the deadline.
But that’s why the Twins should hold onto Buxton for next season. He is part of Minnesota’s winning formula: They’ve gone 97-53 in games that he has played dating back to 2019. While they will consider his impact, other factors should influence their decision.
One of the biggest is his ability to patrol center field. Even after missing the past month, Buxton still ranks fourth in outs above average among outfielders. That may not seem like a big deal, but his defensive impact has been highlighted now that the Twins have trotted out Rob Refsnyder and Gilberto Celestino out to center over the past two weeks.
With several players on one-year deals, it’s unlikely that trading Buxton would provide a quick fix for 2022. It’s unlikely the Twins could find a Bauer-like trade that would net them an ace in return, so why not have someone that can literally take runs off the board with his defense? If Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios miss Buxton now, there’s a good chance they’ll miss him more when he’s traded for prospects.
The Twins know how important Buxton is to their chances next season, which is why they’ve kept him on the bench for the first two games of the Seattle Mariners series. If they were in contention, there’s a chance they would just let Buxton hit the field. Instead, they know that another major injury could sink their hopes in 2022 or put another dent in his trade value ahead of next year’s deadline.
Minnesota needs to do everything in its power to make sure what’s happening in 2021 doesn’t happen in 2022. To make that a reality, Buxton needs to be on their roster.