More than six years ago, when Byron Buxton made his MLB debut for the Twins, I wrote about the "paradox of potential" and how the hard part for Buxton (and fans) was about to begin.
Before he saw his first major league pitch, the possibilities for his greatness were endless. Right after that first pitch, the clock started ticking: boom or bust?
From 2015-18, Buxton primarily struggled. He was hurt. Or he was lost at the plate. His speed and defense were never in question, but that wasn't enough to make him a star.
And then from 2019-present, Buxton primarily excelled — when healthy. He was hurt. But he was found at the plate. In 684 plate appearances in those three seasons (187 out of a possible 384 games played, fewer than half of what the Twins played) Buxton hit 42 home runs, 56 doubles and four triples. That's a .575 slugging percentage, which adds up quickly when you get an extra base hit more than once every seven plate appearances. The defense and speed remained peerless.
Those forces brought us to a different paradox in 2021: With Buxton approaching free agency in a year, was he too expensive to keep given his history of injury and past struggles? Or was he too valuable to lose as a potential superstar based on his recent production when healthy?
Sentiment seemed to be trending toward the former, as trade rumblings swirled. But as Patrick Reusse and I talked about on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast, a surprise twist came this weekend when Buxton agreed to a seven-year deal worth $100 million (plus incentives).
It was a smart move by the Twins. Time will tell if it was a wise move.
What's not in doubt is this: Buxton, already a heavily scrutinized athlete, will now enter a new phase of rigorous inspection on a nearly pitch-by-pitch basis.
Joe Mauer felt this the most intensely of any athlete in our market in the last decade after he signed his eight-year, $184 million deal. But he had already won three batting titles and and MVP award when that deal kicked in.
Kirk Cousins knows what it feels like, as the highest-paid player at the highest-profile position on the highest-profile team in town.
Players are simply judged differently when their bank accounts swell. Combine that with Buxton's elite former prospect status, his early struggles and his continuing inability to stay healthy and you have quite a recipe.
We're entering Mauer territory. If Buxton was from St. Paul instead of Georgia, we'd be all the way there.