Posted on September 10, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
Even if the Minnesota Twins win the AL Central and made a deep playoff run, they will do so without center fielder Byron Buxton. The Twins ended any hope of getting Buxton back on Tuesday when they placed him to the 60-day Injured List due to lingering shoulder problems. He was set to undergo labrum surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that could require a recovery of up to six months.
Buxton missed most of August due to left shoulder subluxation. He suffered the injury after colliding with the outfield wall during a game in Miami. When Buxton returned in late August, he served only as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement late in games. With the shoulder issues lingering and preventing Buxton from being able to hit, he and the club decided to go ahead with the surgery, effectively ending his season.
“We know we might not have him going forward this year,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said in a radio interview Tuesday, “Hopefully, we have him full strength and ready to go next year.”
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Prior to the injury, Buxton had been a key part of Minnesota’s outfield defense, establishing himself as one of the best center fielders in the game. But he was also enjoying a breakout season offensively. A wrist contusion and concussion before the shoulder problem limited him to just 271 at-bats this season. However, Buxton hit .262 with an OPS of .827 in that time. Those are the best numbers he’s posted during his major league career.
Obviously, the Twins have had over a month to adjust to life without Buxton. Max Kepler has taken over most of the duties in center field after sliding over from right field. That leaves Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade Jr., and super-utility man Marwin Gonzalez to handle right field. While Kepler has been solid in center field, there’s still an overall drop-off in the Minnesota outfield defensively.
“[Buxton] is an enormous part of what we do here. The contributions he makes on the field are fantastic, obviously – he’s one of the best defenders in the world,” says Baldelli. “The energy he brings and the lift that he brings to the team is also huge.”
Despite getting little out of Buxton for the last six weeks, the Twins maintain a five-game lead over the Indians in the AL Central. Barring a late-season collapse, they are poised to win their first division title since 2010. But they would surely prefer to have Buxton available down the stretch and in the postseason. His speed and defense, not to mention his surprising offensive contributions this year, make the Twins a better team and could have served them well in the playoffs.
There is also some concern about his status for next season. If Buxon ends up needing six months to fully recover from the surgery, he will be cutting it close with the start of spring training. Of course, knowing for sure that Buxton won’t return in 2019 is the more immediate issue. Assuming they hold on to win the AL Central, the Twins will surely enter the postseason as underdogs. They’ll need all the help they can get in the playoffs, and unfortunately, that won’t include Buxton.