Byron Buxton hit two home runs and a double on Thursday night, in the first inning launching a 94 mph fastball into the upper deck in left field to start the Twins' last home game of the season.

If that was his last hurrah at Target Field, he made the most of it.

The Twins can't let that become his last hurrah at Target Field.

They can't let Buxton become their new-age David Ortiz.

Buxton is one season away from free agency. If the Twins can't agree on a long-term contract with him this winter, or before the July 31 trading deadline next season, they will be forced to trade him.

As much as front offices are measured by wins and losses, they are also employed to avoid disasters. Letting Buxton leave as a free agent would be a disaster.

Here's the catch: So would trading him. Because if the Twins trade Buxton and he stays healthy enough to prove he is the best player in the game, the Twins will become objects of ridicule throughout baseball, and Minnesota, for decades.

It would be a terrible negotiating stance to admit it, but the Twins can't afford to let Buxton leave. The old heads in the front office remember Ortiz.

The Twins released Ortiz following the 2002 season and he became baseball's best clutch hitter. The Twins were ridiculed for years for holding back Ortiz, or for failing to see his potential.

In reality, letting Buxton leave would be far less forgivable than letting Ortiz go.

Because we already know what Buxton can do.

The Twins did not make a bad decision when they released Ortiz. He had not only failed to stay healthy, he had refused to get into shape or to work to reduce the massive holes in his swing.

That's why, when he hit the market and 29 teams had a chance to bid on him, he wound up signing a one-year deal for $1.25 million to be Boston's backup first baseman.

Ortiz showed up in Boston bigger, stronger, more determined and with a better swing, and he punished American League pitching and the Twins' reputation for years.

Buxton is far more proven now than Ortiz was then. Only injuries have kept him from becoming a superstar. He is by far the Twins' best player, hitter, fielder, baserunner and most exciting asset.

Thursday night, Derek Falvey, the Twins' president of baseball operations, talked to reporters in the press box. He said he was comfortable going into Buxton's last year without him signed to a long-term deal and that he expected to resume negotiations with Buxton's agents this winter.

Falvey traffics in value. He can't afford to let Buxton leave as a free agent. He can't afford to trade him for anything less than a future superstar, which are hard to come by. And Twins owners may not approve the kind of rich, high-risk contract that will probably be required to get the deal done.

The riskiest proposition is letting Buxton leave. Yes, his career has repeatedly been derailed by injuries, but some of those injuries have been the result of bad luck, some the result of running full-speed into outfield walls a habit he has curbed.

Falvey said he does not even plan to use the word "rebuild.'' Trading Buxton would be a signal to his players and all of Minnesota that 2022 is not a priority.

Signing Buxton would be a signal from the Pohlads that they are willing to take an intelligent financial risk.

The Twins will never be able to sign a player of Buxton's caliber in free agency, and the only reason they were able to draft him is by achieving the second-worst record in the big leagues in 2011 a position they want to avoid for the remainder of franchise history.

Signing Buxton may be difficult and expensive, but it's a better option than watching him return to Target Field in another uniform, to launch a few more shots into the left-field upper deck.