To understand the motivation of the second $100 million man in Twins history, it's helpful to listen to the first. So tell us, Joe Mauer — the day you signed for $184 million, the richest contract in Minnesota pro sports history — were you aware that you could have made even more money elsewhere?
"The short answer is yes," Mauer said after congratulating Byron Buxton at Target Field on Wednesday. "But where Byron and I are similar is that we both wanted to be here. I never saw myself in another uniform, and obviously he wanted to stay here, too."
He will through at least 2028 under terms of the seven-year contract Buxton signed Wednesday, the eve of a lockout that could delay his eighth season with the team that drafted him second overall in 2012. The deal guarantees him $100 million — $10 million in 2022 and $15 million from 2023-28 — with hefty bonuses if he stays healthy enough to bat more than 500 times, and between $3 million and $8 million more for any season he's among the top 10 players to receive MVP votes.
"Being able to sign a contract like this and set up a future for my family and kids is pretty special to me," said Buxton, who will turn 28 later this month, shortly after affixing his signature to the contract. "This is the place we want to be, and there's nowhere else."
Apparently so, given the billions being spread around the game this week in a unique, lockout-driven free agent frenzy. Six free agents have already signed larger contracts than Buxton, with some of the most-sought players still available.
Buxton wasn't a free agent, but he would have been next fall, and multiple bidders drive up the price. Free agency delivered center fielder Starling Marte, for instance, a $19.5 million annual salary after 2022 from the Mets last week.
Surely on the open market, with high-payroll teams such the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers involved in the bidding, Buxton — even with his long and unfortunate injury history — would have commanded more, perhaps far more, than a $15 million annual salary.
"No doubt. Next year we probably could have done a little better," conceded Al Goetz, one of Buxton's agents. "But for him, being where he wanted to be and where his family wants to be, that was the most important thing."
Buxton left little doubt about that.
"For me, there's a lot of loyalty to this. That's how I was raised," he said. "For me, it was a big deal. This is our home. ... Staying here throughout my career was a big piece for me."
It came as no surprise to Twins scouting director Sean Johnson, who first watched Buxton play for Baxley (Ga.) High before the 2012 draft.
"He's so loyal — to his parents, to his hometown, to the guys who helped him and who gave him his chance," Johnson said. "Some guys don't care, they're just like, 'Get me out of here, I'm never coming back.' He's happy with the team, he loves it here — why would he leave?"
Now that he knows he won't be traded — can't be, actually, without his permission, a contract provision Buxton said he insisted upon — he has other goals to accomplish, too. Staying healthy is one, of course, given that he's spent time on the injured list 12 times in his career. That's a factor that induced the Twins to structure the contract in such a unique way, with a salary the team can swallow if he keeps getting hurt, but big dividends for big production.
The sort of production, actually, that Buxton hinted at with a spectacular April — a .426 batting average, eight home runs and a 1.363 on-base plus slugging percentage — and then delivered with an incredible, All Star-level 4.5 wins above replacement in only 61 games.
"The first offer we made to Byron was March 17, 2017. That's 1,720 days ago — longer than your normal negotiation, I would say," General Manager Thad Levine said of the talks, stalled so long that the Twins explored trading Buxton at the deadline last July. "We view this as a championship-caliber team, and he is a central figure to that. He's a memory-maker."
That's the other goal Buxton spelled out Wednesday. He wants to be a lifelong Twin, but also a champion.
"The biggest thing for me now is winning as many rings as I can to bring back to Minneapolis. That's my biggest focus," he vowed. "I don't have that scariness of 'Am I going to be here?' anymore. I'm very, very excited to get back on the field and bring that here."