The fact that Byron Buxton flew to the Twin Cities from his Georgia home just to spend three hours meeting young patients at the Gillette Children’s Hospital on Tuesday is evidence that the young Twins center fielder won’t let his disappointment in his team’s front office affect his relationship with its fan base.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t angry when Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey chose not to call him up from Class AAA Rochester in September.
“Yes. I ain’t sugarcoating nothing,” Buxton said when asked of his displeasure over the decision. “It kind of didn’t go over well.”
Told of Buxton’s comments Tuesday, Falvey said at baseball’s winter meetings in Las Vegas that Buxton will be the starting center fielder for 2019, adding: “We have been focused on trying to get him ready for next year. We have turned the page on it and recognize that today was the first chance he had to talk to the media about some of these things.
"I feel as soon as Byron gets around his teammates and we get things moving, going forward, he’s going to be exactly what we expect him to be. And we are going to support him to be the best possible player he can be.”
Being sent home on Labor Day, when the minor league season ended, was just the final blow in a lost season for Buxton, who finished 2017 with a two-month, .298-and-11-homers flourish, then earned the Platinum Glove as the best fielder in the game. But migraine headaches, a broken toe and a strained wrist spoiled his 2018 follow-up, and he batted only .156 with a .183 on-base percentage in 28 major league games, many of them coming while he tried to gut out the toe injury.
Buxton was sent to Rochester on a rehab assignment in mid-June, but the Twins chose to exercise a minor league option and leave him there the rest of the season. He batted .365 with the Red Wings in August, and fully expected to be summoned back to Minnesota once rosters expanded on Sept. 1.
Doing so, however, would have credited Buxton with a third year of MLB service time, allowing him to become a free agent after the 2021 season instead of 2022. The Twins insisted that Buxton’s injury history and lack of available playing time were their primary reasons for not restoring him to the roster in September, though General Manager Thad Levine acknowledged that “we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t at least aware of service-time impacts on decisions we make.”
The financial implications weren’t as hurtful as the lack of faith in him, Buxton said.
“Money to me isn’t everything,” he said. “I focus more on who you are as a person.”
Was he completely healthy by the end of the season?
“Not to them I wasn’t,” Buxton said. “I mean, everybody else saw that I was playing every day. But I’m going to leave it at that.”
Jake Cave took over as the primary center fielder following Buxton’s demotion, and the Twins have also added outfielders LaMonte Wade and Michael Reed to the 40-man roster, leaving the impression with the former No. 2 overall pick that he will have to win his job back in spring training.
“Apparently so. That’s how I looked at it,” Buxton said. “I didn’t finish the year here. … I have no idea what they want from me now.”
“We don’t view it that way. He’s our starting center fielder. That’s who Byron Buxton is. That’s clear to us moving forward.”
He has talked to Falvey since the season ended, conversations which the Twins executive said were positive and focused on the future. Buxton shrugged when asked about their talks and declined to offer any specifics. Yet though his unhappiness might linger, Buxton said it won’t affect his goals and intentions, which haven’t changed.
“I wouldn’t say we’re on the same page, but I ain’t going to cause [trouble] between us,” said Buxton, who turns 25 Tuesday. “I want to be here. This is where I started my career, [and] this is where I want to finish my career, for my teammates, my brothers.”
In fact, if the September snub was meant to motivate him, it may have worked.
“I’m pretty pumped, ready to get the season going,” Buxton said. “I guess because I didn’t come back, I’ve got an edge. I don’t think it’s going away. So for me to be happy, I’ve got to get back to playing ball.”
He is working out regularly, he said, but took Tuesday off to join reliever Trevor Hildenberger and former Twins stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in St. Paul at Gillette’s “Winter Wonderland,” an afternoon of personal visits, picture-taking, gift-giving and other activities with patients. Buxton decorated Christmas cookies with 7-year-old Ashlyn Stombaugh, and said the long travel day was worth it.
“I’m not too happy [with the Twins], but for the fans, for these kids, you put that to the side. You try to focus on putting smiles on their faces and enjoying this,” said Buxton, whose 5-year-old son, Brixton, played nearby. “I’ve got a little boy. I get to see him smile each and every day. I get to go out in the yard and play with him, and there’s parents here who say their kids can’t even come out of the room. So it’s pretty much the only thing I can do, try to give back.”
Staff writer La Velle E. Neal III contributed to this report.