Shortly before Joe Ryan threw his first pitch against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday, head of baseball operations for the Twins Derek Valvey spent a significant amount of time answering questions about Byron Buxton.
As if on cue, Buxton kicked off the first half of the first half with his fifth career home run and third of the season, Detroit novice left-back Tariq Scopal who landed on the second floor in left field.
On his second bet, Buxton easily came up with a player selection who would have been a double play for several hitters and came to score in Josh Donaldson’s home run by three runs as the twins led 4-1 in the third inning.
Buxton lost a lot of games to injuries during his seven-year career, but when he plays there is no doubt that he makes a difference. It also hurts when he’s not there, even when he’s not hitting, and he’s played 212 out of a potential 540 matches over the past four seasons.
This season alone, Buxton has missed 94 games due to a hip strain and a broken hand. Not ideal for a player entering their final year of refereeing, or for a team trying to sign them on a long-term deal.
“Byron has had some ups and downs, and we know that,” Valvey told reporters. “There have been stretches of amazing performances, there have been long stints where he has dealt with some injuries. He will be the first to tell you that.”
For just over a month, Buxton has been baseball’s best player this season, posting .370 with nine home runs and 17 RBI in 24 games. Then he was injured and missed 39 matches. Three days after his return, one pitcher broke his left hand, and he missed 55 others.
But with Thursday’s final home game looming, Buxton was finding his feet again, scoring 0.316 with two home runs and four in the previous eleven games.
Buxton addressed the issue in late July after negotiations were reportedly closed for the season, telling reporters, “The twins shaped me, so this is where I want to spend my career.” But he has already turned down a long-term deal worth more than $10 million a year.
Now, how do the Twins and Buxton find common ground after a season like this?
“I would say it’s not difficult to get into this season,” Valvey said. “You’re just kind of evaluating what you saw here.”
Buxton, 27, made $5.12 million in a one-year deal this season and has one year of refereeing left. If he signs another one-year contract, he will become a free agent after the 2022 season unless the teams reach an agreement on a longer deal during the season.
That’s good, Valvey said.
“I would say that’s just part of every season; we know some players are going into free agent seasons and that’s the way it goes,” he said. “That wasn’t a concern for me. We’ve had other players go along like that too.”
Buxton was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft and was either the No. 1 or No. 2 twins until he crossed his rookie limits by 52 games in 2015. Always one of baseball’s best quarterbacks, Buxton seemed to reach his offensive potential in April and May. Had he not been hurt, he might already have a long-term deal.
But he’s hurt, and he’s had every season since he played 140 games in 2017. Negotiations for all players are likely to be complicated by the fact that the collective bargaining agreement between baseball and the players’ union expires on December 1.
Asked why the talks might be more productive with December arbitration deadlines approaching than they were in the spring, Valvey said: “I don’t know. I think it’s only the latter part of the year and we’ll have those talks.”
“When you’re in season, sometimes those dialogues are different than they are in the off season,” he added. “There are a lot of considerations at this point and you’re in full swing in the process. We’ve always had open dialogues, not just with Byron’s agent but with a number of player agents on our squad, and I expect we’ll have the same.”