There is little doubt the Twins’ decision not to make Byron Buxton one of their September call-ups last season was done so that he wouldn’t become a free agent until after the 2022 season. A late-season recall from Triple-A Rochester would have given Buxton a third year of major league service time and made him a free agent after 2021.
Nearly four months later, the decision still makes little sense given how Buxton’s career has gone. After an injury-filled and overall horrible season, Buxton looks like he could be a complete bust and worrying about him becoming a free agent seems silly. Derek Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, and general manager Thad Levine should have jumped at the opportunity to get the speedy center fielder back up here in hopes he could get some confidence.
Instead, he was told to go home after hitting .156/.183/.200 with no home runs, four RBIs and five stolen bases in 28 big-league games. He also struck out 28 times in 90 at-bats.
So how did Buxton take this decision from the Twins’ brass? Turns out the answer was not well.
Buxton, who will turn 25 on Tuesday, made this clear Tuesday in an interview with the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press while making an appearance at the Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul.
“It’s business, they did what they did, I do what I do,” Buxton said. “At the end of the day, I’m still going to keep playing hard, still want to play in Minnesota, still want to play beside my teammates. That’s all that matters.”
Buxton’s tone made it clear he wasn’t happy but there was nothing inflammatory about that comment. But when John Shipley of the Pioneer Press began his next question by saying “were you” … Buxton didn’t hesitate. “Pissed?” he said. “Yes. I ain’t sugarcoating nothing. It’s as simple as that.”
One thought expressed when Buxton wasn’t called up was how he would take it. There never has been a concern about Buxton’s desire to be a good player, but he doesn’t come off as a very confident player and seems to get down very quickly when things don’t go well. Would it be better if that wasn’t the case? Obviously.
But Buxton, along with third baseman Miguel Sano, hold the Twins’ future in their hands. Both were expected to develop into star players, but right now are on track to be busts. That means the Twins need to do whatever is necessary to get the most out of Buxton and Sano. Sending Buxton home seemed to be the wrong move.
The word seemed is used because Buxton’s response to reporters on Tuesday was unexpected and refreshing. If he truly is “pissed,” as opposed to hurt or shaken by the move not to bring him up in September, there is something Buxton can do about it. Show up for spring training looking ready to turn into the player that everyone expected when he was selected second overall by the Twins in the 2012 major league draft.
That means Buxton will have to start hitting and there remains a question whether he will ever be able to do that against big-league pitching. Buxton has shown flashes of being able to hit in the major leagues — he batted .298 with 11 home runs over a two-month period to end 2017 — but there never has been the consistency needed for him to remain on the field on a regular basis, much less become a star player.
Buxton also said he expects he’s going to have to audition for the job in center field because “I didn’t finish the year here,” and added, “I wouldn’t say we’re on the same page, but I ain’t going to cause hectic between us because I want to be here,” when asked about his current relationship with the Twins.
While alienating Buxton still seems odd, hopefully he is as upset as he says he is and is ready to take out his anger on fastballs, curveballs, changeups and any other pitches he sees in 2019.
Can Buxton’s anger result in that happening? The Twins can only hope.