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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 on 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.
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 pinky finger.
“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 that Buxton has played in over the last three seasons. They’re 92-105 (.467) without him. In 636 at-bats in that span, Buxton has 56 doubles, 42 home runs and a robust .897 OPS mark.
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 on 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 agreed this week to terms on one-year contracts to avoid salary arbitration with right-handed relievers Jharel Cotton ($700,000) and Tyler Duffey ($3.8 million) and left-handed reliever Caleb Thielbar ($1.3 million). Left-handed reliever Taylor Rogers, catcher Mitch Garver and infielder/outfielder Luis Arraez were tendered contract offers and are eligible for arbitration.
Cotton was claimed off waivers from Texas last month. Left-handed reliever Danny Coulombe and right-handed relievers Trevor Megill and Juan Minaya were not tendered contracts and became free agents. Megill was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Cubs.
Earlier in the offseason, right-handed reliever Alex Colomé had his contract option declined and became a free agent. Right-handed starters Michael Pineda and John Gant and shortstop Andrelton Simmons were the only other significant players who became free agents.
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 last 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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Dave Campbell, The Associated Press