Commentary: Twins made the smart decision with Byron Buxton
MINNEAPOLIS — There has been some gnashing of teeth over the Twins' decision not to recall Byron Buxton for the tail end of the season. At first glance, the decision was a little shocking. Buxton is arguably baseball's best defensive outfielder and, still only 24, expected to be a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come.
As usual, the decision was made in large part because of money; by ending Buxton's season early, the Twins have gained an extra year of team control over the former No. 1 prospect in baseball. Unfair, cried the cognoscenti, and it might be if Buxton had done anything this season to earn an extra year of service time. But he didn't.
The Twins are winding down a disappointing season for many reasons, and Buxton is a big one. After winning a Platinum Glove and helping the Twins win a wild-card berth last season, he was expected to continue developing into the franchise player the team wants him to be. If he had, he and the Twins never would have been in this position.
Buxton played 28 major league games this season, leaving him 13 games short of erasing a year of team control on his future. He should have passed that well before the all-star break, but he didn't. Even if he had continued struggling at the plate — he hit .156 with a .182 on-base percentage and 28 strikeouts in the majors — his defense would have helped the Twins win games. But he wasn't here. Three trips to the disabled list put him at Triple-A Rochester at the deadline to expand September rosters.
It wasn't his fault, but the Twins were faced with a serious, but easy, question to answer: Do we promote Buxton for a meaningless month and lose an entire season of team control, or let him play two weeks and give him credit for the season?
Teams do and always will use the collective bargaining agreement to their benefit, just as players do, and often — usually? — service-time rules are manipulated to the disadvantage of the player (see: Kris Bryant). That's certainly the case with Buxton, but is it unfair?
The inelegant way that Falvine StatCast Overdrive explained the decision hasn't helped, but it's hard to fault them for being honest. General manager Thad Levine told the Pioneer Press that service time should factor into every personnel decision the team makes. Should it not?
This isn't high school, this is business and these are the rules. When Buxton's management team goes to arbitration, it will use those rules to get every cent it can for their client. It's interesting that so many sports fans seem to care for union members only when there are millions of dollars on the line as opposed to, say, a living wage — and yet this isn't the hill on which the Twins' critics are dying. Instead, it's a sense of indignity at the team's temerity to act in its best interests, and perhaps even to judge their player's 2018 season for what it was — a competitive bust.
By accounts official and anecdotal, Buxton is a good guy who works hard. He puts his body on the line in the outfield. He hustles. He's a good teammate. He's hard not to root for. But this isn't high school; this is big-boy sports. The Twins have been working on next season since they traded Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar and Lance Lynn at the non-waiver trade deadline.
One can make the argument that giving Buxton his two weeks of service time would be a nice goodwill gesture, a generous pat on the back for a player the Twins need to be, at least, a good major-leaguer. But there is no advanced stat on goodwill.
When Terry Ryan was running the place like a family, the pitchforks wanted objective, mathematical analysis. Well, now they've got it. You can't have it both ways.