My Case for Trading for Byron Buxton
Byron Buxton has had his fair share of injuries in his career, but I'd still love it if he could man centerfield for the Yankees in 2022.
The Yankees’ offense was bleak in 2021, sporting a 101 wRC+, as six other American League clubs had a higher team wRC+ this year (Houston, Toronto, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Boston, and Oakland). Only five players on the Yankees this season had a 100 or better wRC+ in at least 100 PA: Aaron Judge (148), Giancarlo Stanton (137), Anthony Rizzo (113), Luke Voit (111), and DJ LeMahieu (100).
The Yankees ended the 2021 season with Brett Gardner manning centerfield. That just can’t happen. They signed Aaron Hicks to a seven-year, $70M extension in February 2019 and he’s played 145 of 384 possible games (37.7%) of games. While he’s been on the field, he’s posted a .338 OBP, 104 wRC+, and -13 Defensive Runs Saved.
You can’t rely on Hicks to be your centerfielder for two reasons: He’s rarely on the field and he’s not good when he’s on the field… he only contributes OBP (which in itself is solid, but not enough for a guy with bad defense and a .187 ISO).
So why would the Yankees take a chance on Byron Buxton when hasn’t played 65+ games in three of the last four seasons, especially considering the haul that the Twins could get for him? Well, Buxton is a top-10 player in the sport when he’s on the field and if you can get 120+ games out of him, he could be an MVP-caliber player.
Also, the Yankees have had strong interest in the 27-year-old outfielder as recently as this summer when they allegedly tried to trade for him even after acquiring Joey Gallo for their outfield, according to Twitter User GarySanchezRBW2’s #sauces.
Let’s process this. The Twins showed they were willing to trade Buxton, who has one year remaining of control now in 2022. Do they think they can get a haul for him? If the price is the right, the Yankees should take a shot because there’s nothing wrong with having good baseball players. You make moves for them and ask questions later.
There are obvious red flags for Buxton. Since playing 140 games in 2017, he hasn’t played more than 87 games in a year since. He has seven trips to the injured list over the last three seasons, including two lengthy ones in 2021.
The thing is… like I said before… when he’s on the field, it’s glorious. In 61 games this season, Buxton hit .306 with 19 homers, a .647 SLG, and a 169 wRC+. He also posted a total of 4.5 Baseball-Ref WAR in those 61 games. Prorate that out to 162 games and that’s an 11-win season.
He was unbelievable when he was healthy and that’s just been the story of his life. Since the start of the 2019 season (187 games) he’s averaged 8.3 bWAR per 162 games.
Look at how spicy those numbers are. He’s never going to play 162 games in a season because (1) that’s just not how the Yankees or most teams operate and (2) only a select few even make it to 160 games these days. The chance is worth it for even the possibility at him putting 60%-70% of that production.
He’s also going to give you top-tier outfield defense and phenomenal baserunning. He’s 5th among centerfielders since 2016 began with 58 Outs Above Average and also has 28.0 BsR in that span with his elite 30.0 ft/sec speed. By the way, he’s 1 of 8 MLB players to average “elite" sprint speed (30.0 ft/sec or better).
A really intriguing thing about Buxton is how he’s increased his barrel rate every season since 2018. He averaged a 4.9% barrel rate in 2015-18. He had a 17.9% barrel rate this season.
He’s also hit really well against fastballs and breaking balls this season, though he struggled against changeups and splitters (offspeed pitches, per Statcast). 14 of his 19 homers came off fastballs.
Let’s digest all of this stuff. Buxton hits well, fields well, and runs well. He barrels up baseballs and has lightning quick speed. He hits well against almost all pitch types.
Would you take a guy that can hit 30 homers, post a 130 or better wRC+, play amazing defense, and tally around 5-6 WAR in 120-130 games for one year? I certainly would take that risk even with the injury concerns. Surround Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton with as much talent as you can and hope that Buxton is there in the postseason. I’d like that and you should entertain that idea, as well.
Let’s say you did this, how would a lineup look? Let’s plug Byron Buxton in for Aaron Hicks (make him a 4th outfielder) and Corey Seager in for Gio Urshela (it’s my blog).
You’re probably not getting DJ LeMahieu out of the leadoff spot with Aaron Boone as the Yankees’ manager. Whatever. That’s life. Would this be a potent offense? I’d say definitely so. I want to see Brian Cashman grow a pair and go for it with Buxton (and Seager or Carlos Correa — who I prefer). This would be a devastating lineup to face (maybe switch out Voit for a Matt Olson or even a Josh Bell?). It’s a cool idea.