In the days leading up to the trade deadline, the Minnesota Twins and Byron Buxton couldn't agree on a contract extension. With the star outfielder set to hit free agency after the 2022 season, there's a good chance Buxton could be traded this winter, kicking off another rebuild.
It's understandable if the Twins are hesitant to pay up due to Buxton's injury history but it's a gamble they've taken in the past. If the Twins are to rebound quickly from a disastrous 2021 season, signing Buxton could be the key to the turnaround in 2022.
Recent history shows the Twins aren't afraid to take a gamble when paying their players. Prior to the 2019 season, the Twins signed Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal worth $14 million.
Cruz's deal looks great in hindsight as he transformed the Twins into the Bomba Squad but it also had its share of risk.
At 38 years old, there was chance that Cruz wouldn't be the same player that hit 37 or more home runs in five straight seasons before coming to Minnesota.
The Twins took a similar gamble the following offseason when they signed Josh Donaldson. Giving a 34-year-old infielder with a lengthy history of calf injuries a long-term deal didn't seem like a solid investment but the Twins did it anyway to secure their championship window.
Like most moves, the Donaldson and Cruz contracts were a 50/50 proposition due to their advancing ages, but ones that pale in comparison to Buxton.
Buxton is a 27-year-old outfielder who is just starting to figure it out at the plate. In his last 150 games, Buxton is hitting .280/.319/.578 with 32 homers, 90 RBI, and 21 stolen bases.
While that stretch has taken place over the course of three seasons, it's more than Cruz or Donaldson have done before getting their big contracts and one that is worthy of the risk.
In fact, it's the same situation that played out with Joe Mauer..
Mauer missed the first month of the 2009 season with a back injury but returned with a vengeance. In 138 games, Mauer hit .365/.444/.587 with a career-high 28 homers to lead the Twins to a division title and win the American League MVP Award.
That led to an eight-year, $182 million contract that was the largest in Twins history. At 27 years old, signing the homegrown superstar was a no-brainer but again, it came with plenty of risk.
Playing one of the most demanding positions on the field, Mauer suited up at catcher an average of 115 times per season from 2005-2009 including a whopping 138 games in 2008.
Like other high-usage catchers such as Jason Kendall and Ivan Rodriguez, Mauer experienced a steep rash of injuries that made him one of the most polarizing Twins of all time.
The fear that Buxton would suddenly develop bilateral leg weakness when signing a contract should be a concern but the risk of signing that contract wouldn't be as severe.
Looking at last season's free-agent market, the biggest contract for an outfielder was George Springer's six-year, $150 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. It's likely Buxton would like that type of money but his injury history might make it harder to achieve.
Even if the Twins were to settle in a middle ground, it's not as big of a risk because of where Buxton is at in his career. The Twins wouldn't be signing a player in a high-risk situation and if Buxton stays healthy, he would be an MVP candidate on a team that is suddenly loaded with young talent.
If the Twins don't want to embark on another rebuilding project, signing Buxton makes a ton of sense. Even if the Twins are leery of his injury history, Buxton is a player that is worth the risk.