A healthy Byron Buxton should have been an easy call-up with September roster expansion, but the Minnesota Twins have decided to focus on an irrelevant issue.
Outside of the elite level center field defense he offers, Byron Buxton has not developed as expected since being drafted No. 2 overall in 2012. Injuries have played a big role, including multiple issue this year alone, and Buxton has shown flashes of figuring things out as a big league hitter before regressing.
This will go down as a lost year for Buxton, with a .156 batting average and 28 strikeouts over 90 at-bats with the Twins. But he’s back from a left wrist issue, and after coming off the disabled list with Triple-A Rochester, he hit .365 with nine extra base hits, seven RBI and a .996 OPS over 12 games. That would make him a prime candidate to be called up when major league rosters expanded on Saturday.
But the Twins have decided not to call Buxton up, with general manager Thad Levine becoming the public face of the decision.
If Buxton were not healthy enough to play, that’s one thing. But he played in Triple-A from Aug. 14 to the end of the month without any apparent lingering issues with his wrist. And for whatever it’s worth, though it’s certainly better than the alternative, he was hitting well.
So what could the reason to shut Buxton down be rooted in?
According to Mike Berardino of the St, Paul Pioneer Press, service time factored into the decision. MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger seemed to see that service time idea immediately.
Manipulation of service time by clubs with elite young players is nothing new, from Kris Bryant a few years ago to Vlad Guerrero Jr. this year. Particularly for smaller market teams, gaining an extra year of control before a player can hit free agency is a vital business move.
By keeping Buxton from getting 12 more days in the big leagues this year, the Twins will assure he falls short of getting three full years of service time. He’ll be a Super Two then, with an extra year of arbitration eligibility, and his free agency will be delayed from 2021 to 2022.
Buxton will still only turn 25 on Dec. 18, and sometimes it takes guys a little longer to reach their full potential. But 2019 will be a pretty pivotal year in his career, and the Twins could have allowed him to keep his Triple- A momentum going, face major league pitching and maybe even gain some confidence heading into the offseason.
But instead, Buxton has been put on ice for 2018, shy of playing in the Arizona Fall League or winter ball, with a message from the Twins that essentially says “we don’t think you’re better than (apparently worthy September call-up) Johnny Field.”
As a sign of frustration, and perhaps a grievance to come against the Twins, the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle reported Buxton cleaned out his locker and left the Rochester Red Wings on Saturday, despite the season not ending until Monday.
Levine and chief baseball executive Derek Falvey have gotten the benefit of the doubt since taking over a mess from former general manager Terry Ryan, as they try to bring the Twins into modern baseball thinking and turn around a run of mostly losing seasons since 2011.
But the Twins top front office duo came with at best strained logic and perhaps an outright lie about service time in regard to Buxton, when there are greater concerns in play for a player who can’t really be defined as a top prospect anymore.