ARLINGTON, TEXAS – In 2012, the Twins decided not to bring up infielder Brian Dozier, who had debuted earlier in the year but was eventually sent down to Class AAA Rochester for seasoning. A motivated Dozier reported for spring training the next year and took off on a path that led to an All-Star Game appearance in 2015 and a Gold Glove last season.
Perhaps that’s what the Twins hope will happen with Byron Buxton, as they announced following Saturday’s game that the former No. 2 overall pick would not be called up for the rest of the major league season despite batting .365 at Class AAA Rochester since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 14.
“I know there’s a lot of questions surrounding this entire issue,” Twins manager Paul Molitor sad. “Everything from other clubs have done with different players, us with Brian, and people are going to react differently sometimes.
“I think time is a really good ally for everybody involved. Ultimately, it’s going to still be about him and his career and his performance and his health and all those things moving forward. When we circle back and start another campaign, everybody hopes that all our goals are the same of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Buxton was not in the lineup Sunday for Rochester for its game against Lehigh Valley, and indications were that he wouldn’t play in Monday’s season’s finale. Perhaps that’s why he left Rochester on Sunday; perhaps frustration is why.
When announcing the decision after Saturday’s game, Twins General Manager Thad Levine laid out three reasons:
The Twins want Buxton healthy for 2019, and he has been playing with soreness in the left wrist that landed him on the DL in early August; his impressive batting average apparently belies his approach or quality of contact; and they want to look at other players in September.
“We are singularly focused on putting together a plan with our strength and conditioning, medical staff, hitting staff to put Byron in the best position to enter spring training 2019 ready to compete, seize the starting center field job and be the force we all believe he can be, which he knows he can be for the Minnesota Twins for years to come,” Levine said.
But the underlying aspect of the decision is that Buxton is 13 days shy of qualifying for another full season of major league service time. Instead of him becoming a free agent after the 2021 season, it will be pushed back to 2022.
And it should be pointed out that the Twins activated Buxton from the disabled list on July 2 but officially sent him to Class AAA Rochester, where he had been on a rehabilitation assignment recovering from a broken left toe. That also kept Buxton from accruing additional MLB service time.
Levine was as forthcoming as he could be while explaining that service time can be a factor in some decisions — but not with the decision to keep Buxton in Rochester. Buxton’s agents, Al Goetz and B.B. Abbott, might feel differently. And it could lead to a grievance being filed.
“I still feel pretty resolute in saying that the other three factors were more present for us in this decision-making process than that,” Levine said. “We wouldn’t have been doing our jobs if we weren’t at least aware of service-time impacts on decisions we make. Now, in terms of conversations with his agent: displeased, disappointed for sure. Their recourse has not been laid out to us. We’re hopeful. They’re certainly entitled to whatever they think is in the best interest to Byron Buxton, without question.”
It has to be pointed out that Buxton has yet to consistently deliver at the plate after being selected with the second overall pick of the 2012 draft. In 28 major league games this season, he hit .156 with no home runs, four RBI, five stolen bases and 28 strikeouts in 90 at-bats. In 306 career games, he has hit .230 with 340 strikeouts.
The Twins can point to those numbers to justify not calling him up, while hoping it lights a fire under him like it did with Dozier. Molitor indicated Sunday that center field won’t be just handed over to Buxton in 2019. The 2017 Platinum Glove winner might have to fight for a job.
Perhaps Molitor will bring that up with Buxton, as he plans to contact him soon.
“I’ll have a nice conversation with him,” Molitor said. “I’ll share my perspective. I’m sure this is tough for him. I haven’t heard all the reactions coming out of his camp to this point. I’m sure there will be some. We’ll try to get to where the understanding and the respect remains. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem between Byron and I.”