Buxton decision becomes 'sensitive topic' for Twins players
ARLINGTON, Texas — Twins manager Paul Molitor had not reached out to Byron Buxton as of early Sunday afternoon, Sept. 2, but said he planned to call him soon.
While Molitor was careful not to reveal much of his planned message, one thing he won't be doing is reassuring Buxton the starting center field job will be his upon reporting to spring training next February.
"It's early," Molitor said. "We've got some games here. I would imagine there's going to be some competition for multiple spots on our team next spring."
As the Twins get a longer look at rookie Jake Cave in center, Buxton is preparing to heard home to Georgia after being informed this weekend he will not be recalled for September roster expansion. Twins general manager Thad Levine spoke late Saturday about "making amends" to Buxton, who was said to be terribly disappointed by the news after returning from a strained left wrist to put up strong August numbers at Triple-A Rochester.
The geographic irony of the controversy was not lost on close observers, and not just because Buxton made his big-league debut here at Globe Life Park on June 14, 2015. Texas Rangers super utility man Jurickson Profar, currently enjoying a breakout season at the plate, was sent home from Triple-A a year ago at this time amid similar controversy.
Like Buxton, Profar had spent parts of four seasons in the majors after being ranked as the game's top prospect. Like Buxton, Profar was 24 and coming off another injury-marred season that limited him to 70 big-league plate appearances and a .172 batting average.
Plagued by migraine, toe and wrist injuries in 2018, Buxton hit .156 in 94 big-league trips this season. According to Levine, Buxton's wrist issue is "still lingering," a contention that raises the question of why Buxton wasn't shut down sooner.
Where the Buxton-Profar parallel really takes hold, however, is in the area of service time. While the Twins stand to gain an extra year of club control over Buxton through 2022 with this decision, the Rangers gained the same benefit by sending Profar home.
While Buxton fell 13 days shy of the 172-day threshold to complete a third year of big-league service, Profar was just seven days shy of reaching four full years in the majors. Vocally critical of the move, Profar was shopped last winter before somewhat surprisingly returning to the Rangers on a one-year, $1.05 million deal.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels was careful to avoid any mention of service-time implications in the Profar decision, but his former assistant, Levine, openly addressed the elephant in the room while giving three larger reasons for the Buxton non-move.
"I think part of our jobs is we're supposed to be responsible to factoring service time into every decision we make," Levine said. "We wouldn't be doing our jobs if we weren't at least aware of service-time impacts on decisions we make."
While no reports suggested agent Scott Boras filed a grievance on Profar's behalf, the Twins had been given no assurances by Buxton's agents, B.B. Abbott and Al Goetz, that the matter won't find its way to an arbitrator's table.
Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson, who recently replaced the traded Brian Dozier as the team's union representative, said he planned to reach out soon to Buxton as a friend and teammate while gathering additional information on the labor aspect of the situation.
"I don't necessarily know how much clubs are allowed to do in service-time manipulation and when it actually crosses the line," Gibson said. "I'd have to go back and see what type of service-time manipulation you'd say is allowed and what part is just frowned upon and what part is not operating in good faith. I'm sure it's something our people will look at and talk with me about it."
In the meantime, Gibson said he and veteran teammates have been fielding procedural questions from younger Twins players concerned about Buxton and his future with the club.
"Something like this is a sensitive topic," Gibson said. "Everybody wants to be mindful of the fact the owners and the GM are the ones that make the decisions, but we want to be mindful about Byron too. We know he's a great player. We know he has the tools to be up here. He's still a big leaguer and a teammate in our eyes."
Buxton hasn't been in the Twins' clubhouse since being sent out on a rehab assignment June 17 in Cleveland. Asked if his absence left a void, Gibson nodded.
"No doubt," he said. "His personality and the energy he brings is contagious. You see the style he plays on the field, people gravitate toward it. Everybody wants that around."