Last season, the Minnesota Twins put together a brilliant offseason that helped construct a team that won 101 games last season. Although the ending wasn't what many had hoped, 2019 has to be considered a big step forward for the Twins just three seasons after losing a franchise-record 103 games.
One of the biggest reasons for the Twins success last season was the front office's bold gamble on Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler. The duo of General Manager Thad Levine and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey identified the two players as key pieces on the roster and moved to sign them to long-term extensions prior to spring training.
The extensions were not greeted warmly by all as Polanco was coming off a 2018 season where he earned an 80-game suspension for violating MLB's performance-enhancing drugs policy and Kepler hit just .224.
However, both players had a tremendous 2019 with Polanco starting in the All-Star Game and Kepler finishing second on the team with 38 home runs (a more impressive total considering he basically missed the final month of the season with shoulder issues).
With the Twins' first wave of contract extensions going so well, it's natural to wonder who could be next in line for a possible payday next spring.
MLB.com's Do-Hyoung Park shared his ideas on who could get paid and while Jose Berrios and Miguel Sano seem like logical candidates for the Twins to lock in, the suggestion of Byron Buxton may draw a polarizing response.
On his day, Byron Buxton is arguably the most important player on the team, with his second-to-none defense in centerfield being complemented in 2019 by an improved performance at the plate.
Buxton started to make himself indispensable as he found gaps and even hit some over the fence during the Twins' record-setting season.
His speed also helped create a career-high slugging percentage, with his .513 mark easily surpassing his previous career-high of .430 set in 2016, and saw him lead the American League with 30 doubles when he crashed into a wall in Miami on Aug. 1, prematurely ending his season.
Nonetheless, many Twins fans still have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to Buxton's injury history.
Over the past two seasons, Buxton has played in just 115 of a possible 324 games. His style of play on the bases and in the outfield saves runs and generates a lengthy highlight reel, but has put him on the injured list more often than not.
Buxton's absence was well-noted over the final couple months of the season as he tried to return for the Twins' playoff push, but doctors wound up discovering a torn labrum, forcing him back on the shelf for the remainder of the year.
With Buxton turning 26 this December, that injury has led many to wonder if the Twins should have taken up the New York Mets offer to deal Buxton (and probably top prospects Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis) for Noah Syndergaard. However, Buxton's value on the field is something the Twins shouldn't walk.
In games that Buxton has played in over the past three seasons, the Twins have gone 153-102. That includes a 62-25 mark last season. The center fielder has also been a savior for the Twins' pitching staff as his UZR rating via FanGraphs, which calculates how many runs saved compared to the average fielder, would have been a career-high of 15.7 over 150 games.
With that kind of impact, shelling out the money to keep Buxton this spring might be a safer investment than hanging onto Eddie Rosario, who had a lower on-base percentage (.300 to .314) and slugging percentage (.500 to .513) to Buxton and is just over two years older, albeit stays healthier.
In situations with an injured player, sometimes the question needs to be asked what happens if they stay healthy.
Players are only injury-prone until they stop getting injured and if Buxton stays on the field, the Twins probably have a superstar in the making...even if that's a big if.