Byron Buxton has been taking one-handed swings in the batting cage at Target Field, careful not to use his left hand that was fractured and has caused him to miss 22 games, including Monday's doubleheader in Chicago.
He has been focusing on lower body workouts. No baseball-related activities. No two-handed swings. No live batting practice. He's not expected to return to action until sometime in August.
So let's clear up one aspect of the Buxton conundrum. Yes, the Twins are trying, once again, to sign Buxton, a free agent after the 2022 season, to a long-term deal. But the chances he's traded before the July 30 deadline if he doesn't accept their offer are remote.
Dealing Buxton already would be challenging because it is difficult to determine a realistic value for a talented player who, as of Tuesday, will have been on the field for only 37.9% of his team's games since the start of the 2018 season. While there are currently clubs interested in him, dealing Buxton when he can't get on the field before the trade deadline is madness for both sides. If he's ever dealt, it's more likely to happen during the offseason.
Let's table trade talk for now and focus on what his value means in terms of a multiyear contract. This is the dilemma the Twins face: How do they reward the 27-year-old No. 2 pick of the 2012 draft who has come into his own but has been available for just 181 games since Opening Day 2018?
Buxton is batting .369 with 10 homers and 19 RBI in just 27 games this season. He sports a marvelous 1.176 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. His current WAR of 2.9 still leads the team. And he remains one of the fastest players in the game.
Since the start of 2019, including the 2020 mini-season, Buxton over 153 games has hit .282 with 33 home runs and 92 RBI. Yes, more of that please — just not over a three-season span.
It's just difficult to figure out what Buxton deserves in terms of a salary. The Twins reportedly have offered a contract worth around $70 million for Buxton for a yet-to-be-discovered length. The guess here is that it's likely for six or seven years, making it $10 million to $11 million annually. Buxton clearly is worth more than that. If he stays healthy and puts up seasons of double-digit WAR, he's worth well over $20 million a year.
What the Twins hope to do is add escalators to the deal that are a blend of performance and appearance incentives that would increase his salary by millions more. Surely, there is haggling over what the base salary will be.
I hear what you're saying. Your answer is to sign Jose Berrios instead. Typically in baseball, pitchers such as Berrios, a two-time All-Star who has been durable, would be the higher priority. But Berrios pretty much let his intentions be known when he indicated to our Phil Miller that he's looking for a big payoff and noted that he, too, is coming up on free agency after the 2022 season. These likely are the final months of Berrios' career with the Twins.
But that doesn't have to be true for Buxton, who has indicated to the club that he wants to remain with the Twins. The club, in fact, believed it was on a path to a deal during spring training when talks hit a snag and broke down.
If talks break down again, and Buxton returns to the lineup and stays healthy the rest of the season and into 2022 — yes, that's a big maybe — then he's a $200 million bundle of power and speed and even harder to sign.
With that in mind, here's how I think the Twins can make this happen: Offer an annual salary of $15 million, acknowledging Buxton is an above-average player. Make it seven years at $15 million with incentives that boost it closer to $20 million, which really good players can earn.
The Twins should be motivated to get this deal done soon, and then hope for the best on the next big question: will his manager be able to write Buxton's name on the lineup card more than 37.9% of the time?