Thursday, September 06, 2018

Bobbling Buxton

I haven't weighed in much on my Minnesota Twins this season. The reason being, quite simply, is they haven't been within a whiff of first place in the mediocre American League Central Division since literally mid April. And now that the Vikings are beginning their NFL regular season this weekend, the Twins are about to become as relevant (or less so) than the MN United soccer team (or is it "futbol club?").

Given the Twins brain trust of Derek Falvey (Executive Vice President and Chief Baseball Officer) and Thad Levine (senior VP and general manager) are just shy of two years into their tenures, I'm willing to be patient while they construct the on-field product. Certainly there are some promising young players at the big league level as well as the high minor leagues, thus there are reasons to be optimistic that there are core players in place. Combine that with the fact the Twins only have approximately $33 million in guaranteed money to dole out in 2019, an immediate return to relevance is very possible with some smart free agent signings.

One of the youngsters in whom the Twins have pinned their hopes upon is center fielder Byron Buxton, who was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. While his outfield defense has been major league worthy (he won the Gold Glove in 2017), his offense has left a lot to be desired. However, he finished last season on a tear by hitting .314 (including .359 On Base Percentage and .553 Slugging) with 12 home runs after July 4. As a result, there was much optimism that the five tool potential many saw in Buxton had finally come to fruition.

Then came the 2018 season.

As is his wont, Buxton got off to a terrible start to the year by hitting only .195 with 2 RBIs and 11 Ks over the first eleven games. He was then placed on the 10-day disabled list due to persistent migraine headaches. While in AAA Rochester for a rehab assignment, Buxton fouled a ball off his big toe, resulting in a hairline fracture. Nevertheless, the Twins rushed him back to the big club where his offensive woes (not surprisingly) continued. Over the next 17 games, Buxton hit a paltry .122 (with a pathetic OBP of .140) while driving in only two runs and striking out 17 times. He was placed back on the disabled list and, as I write this, has not returned to the big leagues. This is in spite of the fact that MLB rosters could expand to 40 players as of August 31 and that Buxton had played well at AAA over the past few weeks.

Given the Twins are well out of postseason contention (evidenced by their pre-July 31 fire sale), there is absolutely zero reason why Buxton should not be with the big club. But he isn't. And the Twins brass sent him home for the remainder of the year. Why? Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune lays it out.

 Levine listed several reasons in explaining their decision, but let’s not be naive, there’s only one real reason.

This decision was driven by service time and preventing Buxton from reaching free agency in 2021, which would happen if he spent two more weeks in the majors this season. By telling Buxton to hit the road, he won’t become a free agent until 2022.

Not only is this bad optics that reinforces a negative view about the organization’s perceived cheapness, they are making a fairly large assumption that seems iffy at best right now.

Buxton hasn’t shown that he can hit major league pitching. He ultimately might be viewed as a colossal bust. But yet the team is worried about his free-agency timeline? The organization might not even want Buxton in 2020 if he doesn’t learn to hit.

He needs instruction. He needs big-league at-bats. He needs confidence. The Twins need to do everything possible to give him the best chance to succeed. Instead, they alienated and angered him.

Buxton reportedly packed up his stuff and left Rochester two days before Monday’s season finale. No one should be surprised if his agent files a grievance.

Was this their goal?

Levine told reporters that the organization views Buxton as a starting center fielder but that they didn’t envision him getting at-bats during a call-up. That’s weird logic.

On Monday, the Twins started an outfield of Robbie Grossman, Jake Cave and Johnny Field. But, sure, Buxton can’t crack the lineup.

I believe that even if Buxton is little more than a .250 hitter for his career, the other-worldly speed on the base paths and the gold glove caliber defense in CF would make him more than a serviceable player. As such, the month of September on a non-contending MLB team is the absolute perfect time to give him ABs in an attempt to get back his swing and become more productive offensively. Unfortunately, Buxton will not have that opportunity in 2018.

In my mind, the honeymoon period for "Falvine" is quickly approaching its end date.


1 comment:

Mr. D said...

I agree -- it's been bizarre. Buxton at .250 would be like Garry Maddox, the 70s era Phillies centerfielder who was more than good enough to have a long career in the majors. Too smart for their own good, I suspect.