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Safe at home: Buxton relishes comfort of staying with Twins

·5-min read
FILE -Minnesota Twins' Byron Buxton takes a lead at first base against the Toronto Blue Jays in a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Twins and center fielder Byron Buxton have agreed to a seven-year, $100 million contract, according to a person with knowledge of the deal, Sunday Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The first offer came from the Minnesota Twins nearly five years ago, initiating their attempt to sign center fielder Byron Buxton to a long-term contract and keep a potential superstar from reaching free agency and a bidding frenzy on the open market.

Getting this $100 million deal done required ample patience, creativity and respect from both sides, but the tipping point was simply the deep desire by Buxton to stay in Minnesota with the only franchise he's ever been with.

He'll be with the Twins for at least the next seven seasons, with a full no-trade clause to ensure it.

“This is our home here. The stability here for me and my family and my kids to stay here through school, let 'em play baseball, fishing, whatever it may be. Comfortability level was a big key for us,” said Buxton, who finalized the contract Wednesday before a news conference with president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine.

Buxton turns 28 later this month. His wife, Lindsey, and sons, 7-year-old Brixton and 17-month-old Blaze, attended the event held at a lounge and bar area inside Target Field.

“I love the fans. I love the city. I love the organization. They were the first ones that gave me a chance to become who I am today. So for me, there’s a lot of loyalty to this. That’s how I was raised,” said Buxton, who was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft out of high school in rural Georgia.

If the driving force in the negotiations was loyalty, the complicating factor was his injury history. The Twins were naturally cautious with their commitment, considering Buxton has played in more than 92 games only once (2017) in his first seven major league seasons, but Buxton and his representatives fully realized his ability to be an MVP-caliber player if he can stay in the lineup.

To help bridge the gaps, there are hefty incentives in the deal — “unprecedented,” Falvey said — based on his finishes in the American League MVP voting.

“He believes he is one of the best players in the game when he’s on the field, and we believe it, too,” Falvey said.

Buxton gets a $1 million signing bonus payable within 60 days, a $9 million salary next year and $15 million in each of the final six seasons.

He could earn $2.5 million annually in performance bonuses for plate appearances: $500,000 each for 502, 533, 567, 600 and 625.

Buxton would get $8 million for winning an MVP award, $7 million for second place, $6 million for third, $5 million for fourth, $4 million for fifth and $3 million for sixth through 10.

He gets a full no-trade provision through 2026 and a limited no-trade provision from 2027-28 allowing him to block trades to five teams.

Al Goetz, one of Buxton's agents, credited Levine for being the “front-runner in never giving up" on completing the contract.

“It’s just not being willing to say no,” said Goetz, whose agency, Jet Sports Management, counted Hall of Famer Chipper Jones as its first client. Jones played his entire 19-year major league career with the Atlanta Braves.

Goetz and Levine had one of their in-person talks at Target Field in June, the same day Buxton was hit by a pitch and broke his pinkie.

“There were a few times I was on the mat after seven or eight and I staggered to my feet and felt like I could go a few more rounds,” Levine said. “It felt like the right thing to do, and we’re all energized to be here today, being able to celebrate this moment with Byron.”

The Twins are 118-69 (.631) in the 187 games Buxton has played in over the last three seasons. They’re 92-105 (.467) without him. In 636 at-bats during that span, Buxton has 56 doubles, 42 home runs and a robust .897 OPS.

In 2021, Buxton’s 4.5 wins above replacement rating, as calculated by Baseball Reference, was the highest single-season mark in major league history by a player who appeared in 70 games or fewer.

He won the 2017 Platinum Glove Award, given to the best defensive player regardless of position in each league. He's 71 of 81 on stolen base attempts, the best percentage over his seven-year career among all major league players with a minimum 50 tries.

“The biggest thing for me now is winning as many rings as I can to bring back to Minneapolis. That’s my biggest focus. I don’t have that scariness of, ‘Am I going to be here?’ anymore,” Buxton said.

As the injuries piled up and the pressure to perform increased, Buxton struggled at the plate throughout much of the first half of his tenure with the Twins. He credited then-hitting coach James Rowson, now the bench coach for the Miami Marlins, for rebuilding his self-confidence.

“You feel like a bag of rocks you're toting around all the time, but 2017 was probably a turnaround year,” Buxton said. “J-Row here, worked in the cage each and every day and got my swing right.”

Rowson flew in to Minnesota to attend the news conference Wednesday.

“He told me each and every day, ‘You’re the best player,'” Buxton said. “I just went out, played baseball and stayed even-keeled.”

The Twins also signed right-handed pitcher Dylan Bundy to a $5 million, one-year contract on Wednesday. He gets a $4 million salary next year, and the Twins have an $11 million option for 2023 with a $1 million buyout.

There is much more work to be done on the roster to get the Twins back into contention after their 73-89 nosedive into last place this year, but by securing Buxton they've got the type of major impact player — assuming he's available for the majority of the games — they can't just find in the farm system or on the market.

“We view this as a championship-caliber team, but he is a central figure to that,” Levine said. “He’s a memory-maker. When fans come to see him play, he’s making memories night in and night out.”

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