Twins excited for what Buxton can do in full season

Center fielder had one of his most productive years playing through injuries

September 25th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- All Byron Buxton wanted for this season was to play healthy -- and even knowing for much of the year that surgery was an inevitable conclusion, he still did everything he could to battle alongside his team, sometimes going through four-plus hours of preparation before games to ensure that he could play.

He did everything he could, but in the end, he fell just shy of his goal of reaching 100+ games played for just the second time in his career (the first was in 2017, when he played 140) -- but as he approaches the season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right knee scheduled for Tuesday, he's grateful for the chance to have been there for his teammates for as long as he was.

"Just being able to play as many games as I did knowing this could be a possibility at any point during the season, for me, I'm just thankful to have been able to play the games I did," Buxton said Saturday before the Twins snapped a five-game losing streak with a 8-4 win over the Angels.

Buxton said that the estimated recovery time from his procedure will be six to eight weeks, which will leave him most of a normal offseason to ramp up for Spring Training 2023, when his persistent knee issues with the patellar tendinitis will hopefully be behind him.

According to the center fielder, he knew as early as April that he knew he would eventually need surgery, after he exited a game in Boston due to an awkward slide into second base. And considering the relatively short recovery timeline for the surgery, it's fair to wonder if Buxton and the Twins could have opted for this procedure early in the season, to have him healthier for the second half of the year and a possible stretch run.

But at that point in April, Buxton was playing well, and he felt good, both mentally and physically. On top of that, the Twins consulted with many doctors, manager Rocco Baldelli said, to arrive at the conclusion that Buxton's knee issue was likely something that he could play through and would improve with time.

That's why they opted to continue with treatment and management, balancing Buxton's workload with scheduled days off and increasingly frequent starts at designated hitter instead of center field to keep him on the field for as much of the season as they could, until a hip strain (believed to be linked to the knee issues) finally sent Buxton to the IL for the first time this season -- and for the rest of the season -- Friday.

“I don’t regret anything," Baldelli said. "I don’t think Buck regrets anything either. I think that would have been a very difficult, almost impossible thing to know in April or May. On the medical side, it’s a very challenging issue to, not just identify, but to know what to do with on the baseball side of things. Not something we see very often. Still something I probably couldn’t even explain to you very well sitting here."

"I think the fact that he was able to get there, fight through, have some healthy stretches, which were obviously not just healthy but incredibly productive, I felt like he was really tracking OK, and we were in a pretty good place there," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "As we got toward the end of the season, kind of wore down a little bit more and then when, ultimately, he dealt with the hip situation, then it got a little worse."

All the while, playing through pain and needing hours of treatment on a daily basis, Buxton still had one of the most productive seasons of his career. He was clearly playing at less than full strength -- nowhere close to it -- but he still posted a .224/.306/.526 line with a career-high 28 homers in a much more power-or-nothing-oriented season than his typical standard.

That was still good enough to earn him the first All-Star nod of Buxton's career, and while starting in center field in place of the injured Mike Trout, the Twins' center fielder crushed a home run off Dodgers right-hander Tony Gonsolin to give the American League the eventual winning run in the Midsummer Classic.

In 92 games, Buxton was worth 4.0 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball-Reference, second-best on the team to only Carlos Correa, in the first season of a seven-year, $100 million contract extension,

"When I look at people who are good at what they do, playing Major League Baseball every day, I mean, he did it with a fraction of his normal strength and with really no lower half in his swing at times, without being able to run after he hit the ball on many days," Baldelli said. "And he still was [an] extraordinarily productive, star-quality player. Let's get him right. And let's see what he can do next year over a full year."

It took a lot of painstaking effort and thought from everyone -- Baldelli on down to the training staff -- to help Buxton stay as productive and available as he could, and to know on which days he'd be available to play, especially as the condition of the knee didn't improve. According to Baldelli, Buxton would not only spend time at the ballpark trying to maintain his physical readiness to play, but he would also work at home in that regard, nearly around the clock.

That was all in the name of trying to be there for his team, who saw how much pain he was playing through by the end, with teammates like Correa giving him encouragement on the tough days and ultimately consulted before Buxton and the Twins made the call to cut his season short.

"They had my back," Buxton said. "Most of them wanted me to just get it over with. They knew how much pain I was in throughout the season. So for them to just know that, that takes a lot of pressure off of you and just allows you to be you and think clearer."

It was a painful 2022 in many ways, but Buxton showed off how he can change the game, even when nowhere close to 100 percent -- and he'll go into this offseason thinking all that effort was worth it for him.

"A headache, but it's part of it," Buxton said. "I wanted to play, especially with the team we had. You never know when you get a chance to play with guys like this or play with a team like this. For me, the mental aspect to try to grind it out and play was important for me."