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Zulgad: Byron Buxton’s latest absence is why decision on his future will be so difficult for Twins

Byron Buxton
Minnesota Twins’ Byron Buxton homers in a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Byron Buxton’s red-hot start to the season was met with conflicting feelings of enthusiasm and trepidation. The former because if Buxton could hit like this for an extended period he would find himself in the AL MVP conversation. The latter because Buxton’s inability to stay healthy long has been an issue for the center fielder and it seemed like only a matter of time before something went wrong.

That something seemed to come in the third game of the season in Milwaukee when Buxton left the on-deck circle and exited the game. It turned out to be a non-COVID related illness that also sidelined Buxton for the next game in Detroit. He entered the Aug. 6 contest against the Tigers as a defensive replacement and hit a home run. He returned to the lineup the following day and slashed .500/.542/.955 with four doubles, two homers and five RBIs in the next five games.

This was the Buxton many had been waiting to see since he was the second overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft. Praise was coming from many. How long would it last? Not very.

Buxton ran gingerly down the first base line on a ground ball for the second time this season in Tuesday’s game against Boston at Target Field. A theory was thrown out on Twitter that Buxton might not have been going all out since it was a sure out and there was no reason to risk injury. That turned out to be wishful thinking.

Buxton did not play in the final three games of the series against the Red Sox because of what the Twins are calling a hamstring issue. His absence continued on Friday night as the Twins opened a series against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.

Buxton has played in more than 100 big-league games only once in his seven-year career — in 140 in 2017 — and his inability to remain on the field will make it difficult for the Twins to decide whether to sign Buxton to the long-term extension he wants or allow him to test the free agent market after the 2022 season.

The Twins also are faced with making a decision on starter Jose Berrios, who will be eligible for free agency after the 2022 season. The team has had contract discussions with the agents for both players, but the reality is they might only be able to keep one of them.

The choice almost certainly would be Buxton, if he could remain on the field. But every time you think he might be turning a corner when it comes to health something else comes up. Unfortunately, that is once again the case.