Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

It has been a quiet offseason for the defending AL Central champion Minnesota Twins. Their only major league addition this far is righty Josh Staumont, who is coming off thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. Otherwise the Twins have lost Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, and others to free agency, and could lose even more players like Donovan Solano and Michael A. Taylor, who still remain on the market.

Barring a surprise big ticket addition(s), Minnesota is banking on the players already in-house to contribute more than they did last year as they seek another division title in 2024. They’re hoping for full and healthy seasons from Royce Lewis and Chris Paddack, a bounce back year for Carlos Correa, full seasons of Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner, etc. It’s not a bad plan, just uninspired.

Another player the Twins hope can give them more in 2024 than he did in 2023: Byron Buxton. The No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft (behind Correa) was limited to 85 games last year by a knee injury that required offseason surgery. Not only that, but Buxton hit just .207/.294/.438 in those 85 games, and was limited to DH. Buxton did not play a single inning in center field in 2023.

Defense is of course a huge part of Buxton’s game. He’s an elite center field defender who ranks seventh among all outfielders with 68 defensive runs saved since his MLB debut in 2015. That’s despite ranking 73rd in defensive innings because of his injury troubles. In 2024, Buxton plans on returning to center field. From MLB.com’s dispatch from TwinsFest this weekend:

“Oh, yeah,” Buxton said. “I’m back.”

The match between the onetime Platinum Glove Award-winning center fielder and the designated hitter role in 2023 was one born of necessity, and in speaking about that even now, it’s clear Buxton never felt totally comfortable with it — and he never fully wanted to do it — but he had to listen to his body and the reality that entailed.

“What makes me so sure [about center field]? My body tells me that,” Buxton said. “I wouldn’t have said that if I wasn’t sure.”

With all due respect, Buxton’s body has told him he’s able to play center field in the past, and it hasn’t always worked out that way. The Twins must be realistic about Buxton and his health, and make sure they have a backup plan in center field. If nothing else, I’m sure they’ll want to give him days off now and then to avoid wear and tear later in the season.

The healthy version of Buxton is a star. He’s a top of the line defender and an above-average hitter, and also a demon on the bases even if he doesn’t swipe as many bags as he once did. Injuries have limited him to only 392 of 870 possible regular season games since 2018, however. The best predictor of future injury is past injury, and there are a lot of past injuries here.

Getting even 90-100 games out of Buxton in center field this coming season would be a massive win for the Twins, and be a big plus for a roster that hasn’t received much outside help this offseason. Minnesota is good enough to repeat as AL Central champs as it is, though their margin of error has shrunk a bit this winter. Buxton in center could help restore it.

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