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How does Byron Buxton fit into the Twins' future plans?

He'll be out 5-6 months with a shoulder injury.
Byron Buxton

The Twins received some devastating news on Tuesday, when it was announced Byron Buxton would miss the rest of the 2019 season with an injured shoulder that will require surgery.

Not only does it put a damper on this season, but there's no guarantee he'll be ready for Opening Day of 2020 because the expected recovery time is 5-6 months and who knows where he'll be baseball-wise by then.

It's another sour end of the year for Buxton, who has been one of baseball's most injury-prone players. With Buxton only playing in over 100 games once since debuting in 2015, it's time to start seriously wondering how Buxton fits into the long-term future of this team.

1. Ride it out and bail

Byron Buxton is under team control through the 2022 season, so that's three years he's guaranteed to play in a Twins uniform. The former top prospect has shown flashes of what he's capable of and why he could be a generational player.

But if we're just looking at his body of work, he hasn't stayed healthy or been able to stay with the team outside of the 2017 season when he played in 147 games. Here's his career game logs since debuting in 2016

  • 2015: 46 games (made MLB debut in June)
  • 2016: 92 games (made team out of spring training)
  • 2017: 147 games (made team out of spring training)
  • 2018: 28 games (made team out of spring training)
  • 2019: 87 games (made team out of spring training)

Despite attributes of speed, defense and promise at the plate, his inability to stay healthy has been a major liability. 

If he’s under team control, he’ll continue to be relatively cheap and if the Twins' window of contending is open for years beyond this season. Buxton still projects to factor while under team control.

But by 2023, he’ll be 29 years old and even though he’s the fastest player in the game today, it’s highly unlikely he’ll still be the fastest player in the game by then. He'll still be fast, but if he hasn't shaken the injury-prone label by then, it'd be time for the Twins to part ways with him look elsewhere for a center fielder. 

2. Extend him now but low ball him

Although he played well in 2017 (playing in 140 games and earning MVP votes), this season was the first time Buxton was hot from the season's first pitch and didn't hit himself out of the lineup.

Through June 14, Buxton appeared in 65 out of 68 games and was looking like an All-Star-caliber player. Buxton was slashing .266/.324/.527 with 9 home runs, 38 RBI and 33 extra-base hits, and then he suffered a wrist injury. 

If you plug those numbers in at a 162-game pace, that's 23 home runs, 95 RBI and 94 extra-base hits. 

So you can see that when he's on the field he's a special player. After the wrist injury, he dealt with concussion-like symptoms that shelved him and now his latest setback is a labrum injury in his shoulder that requires surgery.

With such a serious injury, it's highly unlikely the Twins want to engage in longterm contract negations but because of his injury history, maybe the team could lock him up for cheap.

Let's say the Twins offer Buxton a six-year deal but at $36 million. So he'd make $6 million per season through 2026. On one hand, Buxton probably thinks he's worth more but at the same time that's the best deal he's going to get as it stands right now. 

Minnesota brilliantly extended Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco to multi-year contracts before this season at $35 and $25 million, respectively. Obviously they demonstrated they could stay on the field, but they took contracts earlier than anticipated and the front office was wise to do so.

So it might be wise for Buxton to jump on a similar multi-year deal like his teammates did.

3. Just bail

This is honestly the most unlikely scenario of the three but maybe the Twins front office has seen enough from him and they move on from him this winter.

If you go back to the trade deadline last July, the New York Mets reportedly asked for Buxton as the focal point in return for hard-throwing starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard.

At first we laughed them out of the room but with Buxton sidelined once again, I think the majority of Twins fans would do that deal in a heartbeat if given a second chance. Trading Buxton won't land Sydnergaard anymore but he's still a young, intriguing asset that any team would like to have.

Minnesota definitely has a need for starting pitching and will likely be in the market to add arms this winter, so maybe Buxton, even if he's rehabbing a shoulder injury, still has enough promise to be included in a deal?

Clearly, when Buxton is on the diamond he's a difference-maker, but it's becoming more and more difficult  to commit long term to a guy who can't stay on the field for a variety of reasons. 

Here are all the injuries Buxton has suffered since debuting in 2015. 

  • 2015: Wrist injury
  • 2016: Knee contusion, bruised hand
  • 2017: Hamate bone
  • 2018: Migraines, broken toe, wrist injury
  • 2019: Wrist, concussion, shoulder

This isn't just one body part that just can't seem to keep up, this is a barrage of injuries all over his body. 

Until he can withstand the physical grind of a full season, he'll remain a massive question mark in the Twins' future plans. 

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