I'd like to see Byron Buxton play center field, play every day, spray the ball to all fields, bunt for hits and run the bases like a helmeted Usain Bolt.

The Twins signed Buxton to a seven-year contract worth $100 million because he is a five-tool player, but lately, all he has been is a hammer in search of a very specific nail.

Baseball's five tools are fielding, running, throwing, hitting for average and hitting for power. At the moment, Buxton is contributing the odd home run and the occasional sprint.

So I'd like to see him come back from paternity leave, which may keep him out of the lineup until Friday in Kansas City, as a different hitter and a more usable player.

Here's the catch: Every time you speak with a Twins official about Buxton, they mention his knee. And there does not appear to be a consensus as to what should be done about it.

Why isn't he playing center field? Because his knee won't allow it. But … maybe he'd be a better hitter if he kept his blood flowing by playing in the field instead of obsessing about his at-bats. He's a supreme athlete who rarely moves like a supreme athlete.

Buxton playing center would also open the designated hitter slot for the Twins' many hitters, including Jorge Polanco, who is close to being activated, and Royce Lewis.

Why isn't Buxton hitting the ball to right field or bunting for hits? Maybe because his knee won't allow it. But if his knee won't allow him to be an effective DH, should he be the primary DH on a contender?

Health and hitting mechanics are intertwined. Last year, Buxton injured his hip while favoring his sore knee. That's one reason the Twins haven't played him in the outfield this year. But if they don't play him in the outfield, they are limiting their upside, and a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 2003 can't afford to limit its upside.

On Monday, I asked Twins manager Rocco Baldelli if he wanted to see Buxton come back from his leave with a different approach at the plate. Buxton has four hits since July 4. He hit two long home runs Friday night, pulling the ball to left-center, and blooped a single to center on Sunday.

Would he benefit from a different approach than trying to launch every pitch over the left-field scoreboard?

"I would answer that by first saying that he's not actually trying to do that," Baldelli said. "So, when he goes deep two times the other day, he's not trying to do that. He's actually trying to see the ball a little deeper, stay over the ball a little more, stay on the ball a little more.

"I think getting that more consistently is going to lead to bigger and better results for him as the season goes on."

Baldelli didn't mention Buxton's knee, but others have. Hitting the ball with authority to right field would require, in hitting terminology, "staying back," but the "back" knee is where Buxton's problem is located.

That's why we see Buxton committing early and either swinging and missing, pulling the ball foul or hitting shots at the third baseman or left fielder.

Physical problems are the only sensible explanation for Buxton's struggles. Two years ago, he hit .306 with a 1.005 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). Last year, he hit 28 homers. His OPS the last four years: .827, .844, 1.005 and .833.

This season, he's hitting .195 with 17 home runs, a .284 on-base percentage and a .418 slugging percentage. Buxton's OPS is .702, well below the league average. He has attempted three steals since May 26.

The Twins' goal was to keep their best hitter in the lineup every day by using him as a DH.

What should they do with him if he isn't going to hit?

Protect him?

Or push him?

It's only a $100 million decision that could determine the fate of a first-place team and the career arc of one of the most talented Twins of all time.