The Twins front office essentially conceded the remainder of the 2018 season at the trade deadline, leaving the organization two — and only two — issues of vital importance.
Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.
That’s it. Nothing else about this miserable season mattered, except Buxton and Sano and making sure those two cornerstone pieces salvaged something positive from their own lost seasons. The organization needed to gain better insight as to whether Buxton/Sano still can be viewed as cornerstone pieces in trying to build a contender.
The answer on Buxton remains very much uncertain and yet the team’s braintrust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine seems more concerned about Buxton becoming a star by 2022 than him becoming a serviceable player in 2019.
That makes no sense.
The Falvine regime opted not to call up Buxton from Class AAA Rochester for the remainder of the season. Levine listed several reasons in explaining their decision, but let’s not be naive, there’s only one real reason.
This decision was driven by service time and preventing Buxton from reaching free agency in 2021, which would happen if he spent two more weeks in the majors this season. By telling Buxton to hit the road, he won’t become a free agent until 2022.
Not only is this bad optics that reinforces a negative view about the organization’s perceived cheapness, they are making a fairly large assumption that seems iffy at best right now.
Buxton hasn’t shown that he can hit major league pitching. He ultimately might be viewed as a colossal bust. But yet the team is worried about his free-agency timeline? The organization might not even want Buxton in 2020 if he doesn’t learn to hit.
He needs instruction. He needs big-league at-bats. He needs confidence. The Twins need to do everything possible to give him the best chance to succeed. Instead, they alienated and angered him.
Buxton reportedly packed up his stuff and left Rochester two days before Monday’s season finale. No one should be surprised if his agent files a grievance.
Was this their goal?
Levine told reporters that the organization views Buxton as a starting center fielder but that they didn’t envision him getting at-bats during a call-up. That’s weird logic.
On Monday, the Twins started an outfield of Robbie Grossman, Jake Cave and Johnny Field. But, sure, Buxton can’t crack the lineup.
One opposing argument is that Buxton doesn’t deserve a call-up because he hasn’t earned it. Nobody is arguing for kid-glove treatment. This is about trying to fix a player who has been hailed as an organizational savior and generational talent.
Why not bring him up to work with the big-league coaching staff? Why not let him work on his swing mechanics in no-pressure September games? Sitting at home accomplishes nothing productive that will help his development.
Buxton played with a broken toe this season because he wanted to help his team. The Twins allowed that to happen and later admitted that his injury affected his swing. Then he injured his wrist in the minors and returned to play. And now they tell him to go home.
Maybe the front office is trying to send Buxton a message, as misguided as that would be. There’s no guarantee Buxton will respond favorably, as Brian Dozier did to a September snub early in his career.
Remember, Buxton tried to help his team by playing injured and messed up his swing even more in the process. He didn’t pout or give the impression that he is beyond reproach. Nobody inside the organization has criticized his work ethic or attitude. In fact, just the opposite.
If — and this is a major if — Buxton eventually becomes a star, Falvine’s decision might look savvy because the team will have one more season of control. But if Buxton ever fulfills his potential, the team should be ecstatic to give him a massive contract. That’s the cost of doing business.
The Twins should be focused on the present. Buxton isn’t a star because he hasn’t proven he can hit major league pitching. He needs all the playing time and instruction he can get. And now he’s probably feeling resentful.
How can they think this is a smart plan?