Buxton inks 7-yr. extension to remain a Twin

December 1st, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- The long months of uncertainty are over in Twins Territory: will remain in Minnesota for the long haul.

The Twins signed their star center-fielder to a seven-year, $100 million extension, the club announced on Wednesday. The deal features a heavily incentive-laden structure and full no-trade clause that bridged the gap between the two sides, concluding months of uncertainty regarding Buxton's future in Minnesota.

Considering Buxton's well-documented injury history that has held him to an average of 70 games per year across his first seven MLB seasons, the incentive structure to the contract is quite unique, supplementing the relatively low annual guarantee of $9 million in 2022 and $15 million from 2023-28 with big bonuses for top-10 finishes in AL MVP voting.

A source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand that Buxton will earn an $8 million bonus for a first-place MVP finish, $7 million for second place, and so on, decreasing down to a $3 million bonus for a finish between sixth and 10th place in MVP voting. Furthermore, Buxton will earn an additional $500,000 each in incentives for reaching 502, 533, 567, 600 and 625 plate appearances. There's also a $1 million signing bonus attached to the deal.

Add it all up, and Buxton could earn up to $25.5 million in a year by maxing out his incentives for a fully healthy season in which he wins the MVP Award. At that point, he would unquestionably be worth that money -- and more -- for all involved.

The seven years and $100 million represent the largest extension guaranteed to a Twins player since the organization inked Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million extension before the 2010 season that kept the hometown catcher and first baseman in Minneapolis through the end of his career. Buxton, 27 years old, will be 34 when this deal runs its course.

After trading rotation centerpiece José Berríos at 2021's Trade Deadline, uncertainty also surrounded Buxton's future when the Twins and his representatives couldn't come to an extension agreement. This impasse led to questions as to whether the center fielder could be traded as he entered his final season of club control, with the Twins coming off a fifth-place finish in the AL Central.

It's true that this sort of long-term deal for a player with Buxton's injury history involves a healthy degree of risk for the Twins -- but in the end, the possible upside proved enough for the club to take on that risk.

After Buxton struggled to put together his immense talent during his first few seasons in the league, the former No. 2 overall Draft selection unleashed his full skillset upon the league in 2021, hitting .306/.358/.647 with a career-high 19 homers, 23 doubles and nine stolen bases in 61 games, garnering 4.5 WAR (per Baseball Reference) and 4.2 WAR (per FanGraphs) in just over a third of a season.

With Buxton continuing to gain confidence and comfort in his swing over the last three seasons, sending his peripherals through the roof -- including hard-hit rates, barrel rates, average exit velocities and expected metrics that have all trended firmly in the right direction during that time -- there's plenty of reason to believe that his '21 performance could be his new standard, considering his immense physical talents.

And even if the offensive performance isn't quite as lofty as the 1.005 OPS he posted last season, Buxton has still been in the 99th percentile (or higher) in speed and at least in the 86th percentile of outs above average in every season, per Statcast, giving him plenty of baseline value on the field in addition to the lift and energy he gives the Minnesota clubhouse.

As for the injury risk, Buxton has appeared in only 187 games across the last three seasons, including 61 this past season. However, it's worth noting that since undergoing shoulder surgery after hitting an outfield wall in 2019, he has missed some time for lingering shoulder issues and a hip strain, but also 54 games for a left hand fracture sustained by a hit-by-pitch -- something completely out of his control.

Buxton has also worked with the Twins to mitigate risk, introducing such elements as starting deeper in center field on plays, working to jump off both feet at the wall to put himself in less compromising positions, and bulking up his body to better withstand the rigors of a full season of wear and tear. He's also adding a nutritionist this offseason to aid his off-field preparation.

As for whether all that will finally lead to Buxton's first healthy season since 2017?

Well, the Twins are officially counting on it now. Extending Buxton instead of trading him also affirms the club's commitment to putting a better product on the field in the short-term instead of rebuilding for the future following its surprising last-place finish in '21. It also ensures that a fanbase that still remembers parting with superstar pitcher Johan Santana in a similar situation more than a decade ago won't need to say goodbye to another one of its favorites.

And all along, Buxton had made it clear where he stood on the matter.

"The Twins drafted me, so this is where I want to spend my career," Buxton said in late July. "There’s not too much I can say for anybody else, but for me, I know where I want to spend my career."

Consider it a deal.