Buxton focused on health, not extension

Twins center fielder says staying on the field is biggest key in 2022 and beyond

October 2nd, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- admits that this season has presented him with a level of mental drain and distraction that he's rarely had to face before, as he dealt with the challenges of missing time due to an injury that was no fault of his own while his team struggled. Questions about his future also swirled around the public.

Still, here he is, having endured those challenges to consolidate all of his talent into an American League MVP Award-caliber performance in the 59 games he's been on the field. That makes the question of Buxton's ongoing extension talks all the more important as the Twins turn their attention to this offseason -- but it's understandable that Buxton is trying to keep his attention on the field now that he's putting it all together for the first time in his career.

"There's no rush," Buxton said before Saturday's game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. "I'm still under contract for another year. I'm sure they're probably still talking. I'm not too much in on that. Focused on trying to finish the season on a good note and keep things going. As far as the contract stuff, I don't really know too much about it. It's more of keeping the door open."

That's in line with what Buxton said ahead of the 2021 Trade Deadline, too, when his camp and the Twins couldn't agree on an extension, leading to speculation about the possibility of a trade much like the one that sent José Berríos to Toronto for top prospects Austin Martin (No. 2) and Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 4).

Buxton has maintained that he enjoys being with the Twins, the organization that drafted him, and he hopes to stay in Minnesota. Still, with his free agency looming beyond the 2022 season -- likely with a huge pay day in store -- the Twins have to weigh the possibility of getting such an extension done in the context of making sure they get requisite value, one way or another, if Buxton isn't still with the club in 2023.

"Obviously, [the possibility of a trade has] crossed my mind, but it's nothing I've worried about," Buxton said. "The only uniform I know is the Minnesota Twins. It's the only thing I really cared about. As far as contracts and stuff, I'm in a Twins uniform. At the end of next year, I'll see how that goes."

The urgency increases given how much value Buxton has given the Twins in an otherwise disappointing season, especially as the front office continues to insist that it does not plan to enter a multi-year rebuild.

Even with Buxton having missed 39 games with a right hip strain and an additional 54 with a left hand fracture sustained when he was hit by a pitch, he still ranks second on the team behind Jorge Polanco with 4.4 wins above replacement (WAR) per Baseball-Reference, and he is even on the cusp of overtaking Polanco's total, per FanGraphs, in nearly 100 fewer games.

Buxton's .305 average, 18 homers, .359 on-base percentage and .637 slugging percentage are all career bests, and his strikeout rate (24.5 percent) is lower than in any season but 2019. His hard-hit rate, average exit velocity and barrel rate are, unsurprisingly, higher than ever.

"It's just one of those things where it took me a little longer than I wanted it to to get to where I wanted to be, but I've shown bunches of where I want to be and what I want to get to, and it's still a work in progress," Buxton said. "But overall, it's good for me and good for my mind. I'm positive and I'm confident. I'm more confident now going into the offseason and preparing myself than I was coming into this year."

With all of the mental strength Buxton has gained in his time away from the field this season and the glimpse of what he's capable of, he's entering this offseason with renewed conviction. He's planning to add a nutritionist to help with his post-workout inflammation and soreness, and he is hoping to prepare himself to spray the ball to all fields next season, in the next step for the improvement of his game.

"I'm pretty pumped," Buxton said. "This year was more mentally draining to the fact that I didn't really have control of the injuries. It was more of a me getting mentally strong. This year taught me a little bit more about myself and who I can become, not just on the field, but off the field.

"Just trying to put my focus a little bit more on my body and making sure I can stay on the field," he added. "That's the biggest key for me now. Just staying on the field. Trying to do everything I can off the field to allow me to have that opportunity."

As to whether his future will be more certain at that point, it's anyone's guess -- but the dialogue between the sides will certainly continue as Buxton buckles down.

"We'll have some conversations with his agents like we do any offseason, but we don't think about it in the context of, 'Oh, he's in his final year, so therefore, we have to make decision X or Y,'" president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "We'll evaluate that independently."