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MINNEAPOLIS — The first offer came from the Minnesota Twins nearly five years ago, initiating their attempt to sign center fielder Byron Buxton to a long-term contract and keep a potential superstar from reaching free agency and a bidding frenzy on the open market.

Getting this $100 million deal done required ample patience, creativity and respect from both sides, but the tipping point was simply the deep desire by Buxton to stay in Minnesota with the only franchise he’s ever been with.

He’ll be with the Twins for at least the next seven seasons, with a full no-trade clause to ensure it.

“This is our home here. The stability here for me and my family and my kids to stay here through school, let ’em play baseball, fishing, whatever it may be. Comfortability level was a big key for us,” said Buxton, who finalized the contract on Wednesday before a news conference with president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine.

Buxton turns 28 later this month. His wife, Lindsey, and sons, 7-year-old Brixton and 17-month-old Blaze, attended the event held at a lounge and bar area inside Target Field.

“I love the fans. I love the city. I love the organization. They were the first ones that gave me a chance to become who I am today. So for me, there’s a lot of loyalty to this. That’s how I was raised,” said Buxton, who was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft out of high school in rural Georgia.

If the driving force in the negotiations was loyalty, the complicating factor was his injury history. The Twins were naturally cautious with their commitment, considering Buxton has played in more than 92 games only once (2017) in his first seven major league seasons, but Buxton and his representatives fully realized his ability to be an MVP-caliber player if he can stay in the lineup.

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To help bridge the gaps, there are hefty incentives in the deal — “unprecedented,” Falvey said — based on his finishes in the American League MVP voting.

“He believes he is one of the best players in the game when he’s on the field, and we believe it, too,” Falvey said.

Al Goetz, one of Buxton’s agents, credited Levine for being the “front-runner in never giving up” on completing the contract.

“It’s just not being willing to say no,” said Goetz, whose agency, Jet Sports Management, counted Hall of Famer Chipper Jones as its first client. Jones played his entire 19-year major league career with the Atlanta Braves.

Goetz and Levine had one of their in-person talks at Target Field in June, the same day Buxton was hit by a pitch and broke his pinky finger.

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“There were a few times I was on the mat after seven or eight and I staggered to my feet and felt like I could go a few more rounds,” Levine said. “It felt like the right thing to do, and we’re all energized to be here today, being able to celebrate this moment with Byron.”

The Twins are 118-69 (.631) in the 187 games that Buxton has played in over the last three seasons. They’re 92-105 (.467) without him. In 636 at-bats in that span, Buxton has 56 doubles, 42 home runs and a robust .897 OPS mark.

In 2021, Buxton’s 4.5 wins above replacement rating, as calculated by Baseball Reference, was the highest single-season mark in major league history by a player who appeared in 70 games or fewer.

He won the 2017 Platinum Glove Award, given to the best defensive player regardless of position in each league. He’s 71 of 81 on stolen base attempts, the best percentage over his seven-year career among all major league players with a minimum 50 tries.

“The biggest thing for me now is winning as many rings as I can to bring back to Minneapolis. That’s my biggest focus. I don’t have that scariness of, ‘Am I going to be here?’ anymore,” Buxton said.

As the injuries piled up and the pressure to perform increased, Buxton struggled at the plate throughout much of the first half of his tenure with the Twins. He credited then-hitting coach James Rowson, now the bench coach for the Miami Marlins, for rebuilding his self-confidence.

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“You feel like a bag of rocks you’re toting around all the time, but 2017 was probably a turnaround year,” Buxton said. “J-Row here, worked in the cage each and every day and got my swing right.”

Rowson flew in to Minnesota to attend the news conference on Wednesday.

“He told me each and every day, ‘You’re the best player,'” Buxton said. “I just went out, played baseball and stayed even-keeled.”

The Twins also agreed this week to terms on one-year contracts to avoid salary arbitration with right-handed relievers Jharel Cotton ($700,000) and Tyler Duffey ($3.8 million) and left-handed reliever Caleb Thielbar ($1.3 million). Left-handed reliever Taylor Rogers, catcher Mitch Garver and infielder/outfielder Luis Arraez were tendered contract offers and are eligible for arbitration.

Cotton was claimed off waivers from Texas last month. Left-handed reliever Danny Coulombe and right-handed relievers Trevor Megill and Juan Minaya were not tendered contracts and became free agents. Megill was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Cubs.

Earlier in the offseason, right-handed reliever Alex Colomé had his contract option declined and became a free agent. Right-handed starters Michael Pineda and John Gant and shortstop Andrelton Simmons were the only other significant players who became free agents.

There is much more work to be done on the roster to get the Twins back into contention after their 73-89 nosedive into last place last year, but by securing Buxton they’ve got the type of major impact player — assuming he’s available for the majority of the games — they can’t just find in the farm system or on the market.

“We view this as a championship-caliber team, but he is a central figure to that,” Levine said. “He’s a memory-maker. When fans come to see him play, he’s making memories night in and night out.”

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Second baseman – Edouard Julien, Fort Myers (47 games), Cedar Rapids (65 games): Drafted out of Auburn in 2019, Julien didn’t make his pro debut until this season because of an injury he sustained while playing for Team Canada. Although there wasn’t much power early on, the native of Quebec City sprayed the ball all over the field for Fort Myers – batting .299 with 41 runs scored and 24 RBIs over 47 games. But after being promoted to High-A at the end of June, the 22-year-old tapped into his power stroke and launched 15 dingers and 16 doubles in the final 65 games with the Kernels. Julien also worked 110 walks in 112 games while showing the ability to handle three positions in the infield and left field.

“Another guy with an interesting intro to pro ball, [Julien] underwent Tommy John surgery before he ever really got here. He blew out his elbow playing for Team Canada,” Hassan said. “But he’s got a really intriguing set of skills that he showed us right away, and with his versatility, he’s going to be someone who could move quickly.”

Third baseman – Jose Miranda, Wichita (47 games), St. Paul (80 games): The 23-year-old out of Puerto Rico really put it all together this season and was named the organization’s Sherry Robertson Award winner as the Twins’ Minor League Player of the Year. Minnesota’s eighth-ranked prospect posted a combined .344/.401/.572 slash line while setting career highs with 30 home runs, 32 doubles, 97 runs scored and 94 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A. He was named the system’s Minor League Player of the Week four times during the season (May 16, June 6, June 27 and July 4). He made his Triple-A debut on his birthday and promptly mashed a trifecta for the Saints.

“I’m not sure you could have a better season than the one Jose just had. One of the best all-around years I’ve ever seen in the Minor Leagues,” Hassan said. “We’re really proud of the progress that he made. He just dominated the strike zone, was really tough to strike out and just started driving the ball really well.”

Shortstop – Jermaine Palacios, Wichita (110 games): After being signed by the Twins in 2014, Palacios was traded to Tampa Bay in 2018 as part of the Jake Odorizzi deal. The 25-year-old opted for free agency in November 2020 and was signed back by Minnesota in February. And it’s been a welcome reunion for both sides as the Venezuela native appeared to regain his form at the plate – batting .259/.340/.439 with a career-best 19 taters in 110 games at Double-A – after a couple of down seasons in the Rays system. Palacios also sparkled at short for the Wind Surge, posting a .962 fielding percentage there.

“He was here my first year and then we traded him, but it was nice to be able to get him back,” Hassan said. “He really took a step forward with the bat this season. He showed some power and that defense at short we already knew about. He really put himself on the map with his performance.”

Palacios’ blasts second homer
Jun 18, 2021 · 0:38
Palacios’ blasts second homer
Outfielders
BJ Boyd, Wichita (66 games), St. Paul (26 games): Signed as a free agent out of the Independent League at the end of May, the 28-year-old made an immediate impact. Boyd hit .291/.349/.484 with 16 dingers, a pair of triples, 16 doubles, 73 RBIs and 67 runs between Double-A and Triple-A. The 2012 fourth-rounder was also a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen-base attempts. He is currently a free agent.

Trey Cabbage, Cedar Rapids (40 games), Wichita (68 games): The 2015 fourth-round Draft selection of the Twins has shown steady progress every season since joining the organization, and that trend continued with his best pro campaign this year. The 24-year-old played his way to Double-A while posting career bests in average (.264), on-base percentage (.346), slugging (.535), home runs (27), total hits (102), total bases (207), RBIs (82) and runs (61). On Nov. 7, Cabbage elected free agency and was signed by the Angels on Sunday.

Mark Contreras, Wichita (19 games), St. Paul (95 games): Another player who has been in the Twins system his entire career, the 2017 ninth-round Draft pick out of UC Riverside put together his best performance in 2021. Working his way to the Minors’ highest level (where he stuck for most of the season), the 26-year-old posted a .251/.338/.485 slash line while setting career highs with 20 homers, 30 doubles, 74 RBIs, 72 runs and 43 walks.

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“He’s a guy that we know very well. He played his way to Triple-A this year and really solidified himself as an everyday player at that level,” Hassan said. “We always knew about the defense, and he can play all three spots in the outfield, but his bat caught up this year and that was good to see. He does a lot of things well and he’s set himself up for the future.”

With 2 hits, 3 RBI and a homer to tie the game, Mark Contreras is tonight’s @Enbridge Player of the Game! pic.twitter.com/8u31cZVa4v

— St. Paul Saints (@StPaulSaints) September 8, 2021
Right-handed starting pitcher – Louie Varland, Fort Myers (10 games, eight starts), Cedar Rapids (10 starts): The St. Paul, Minnesota native was named the Jim Rantz Award winner as the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound hurler went 10-4 with a 2.10 ERA between Low-A and High-A. The 28th-ranked Twins prospect posted a 1.09 WHIP and a .214 average-against while whiffing 142 and walking 30 over 103 innings. The 2019 15th-round Draft selection led all Minnesota Minor League pitchers in strikeouts, wins and ERA.

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“He really worked his butt off in 2020 [during the lockdown] and came back throwing harder than we’ve ever seen. He just put together an incredible year,” Hassan said. “He improved as much as any pitching prospect we had in the system. He really missed a lot of bats, showing incredible maturity, just really proud of him.”

Left-handed starting pitcher – Andrew Albers, St. Paul (18 games, 17 starts), Minnesota (five games, three starts): The veteran who last played professionally in 2017 made his return to affiliated ball this year and proved to still be a serviceable option. The southpaw spent most of the season at Triple-A, where he posted a 3.88 ERA and punched out 88 while walking 11 over 102 frames. The 26-year-old also made three spot starts for the Twins, appearing in 19 big league frames over five games in The Show.

Relief pitcher – Jovani Moran, Wichita (20 games), St. Paul (15 games), Minnesota (five games): The organization’s 25th-ranked prospect played his way through three levels to make his Major League debut. He worked around two hits and a pair of walks while fanning two in 1 1/3 shutout frames on Sept. 12 against the Royals. The 24-year-old posted the best K percentage in the system (31.6) and the second-best WHIP (0.89) over 67 1/3 frames at Double-A and Triple-A. In 35 Minor League games, the left-hander notched a 2.41 ERA, a .124 average-against and struck out 109 while walking 32. In eight big league innings, Moran fanned 10.

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“He was just in attack mode this year, and he missed a ton of bats,” Hassan said. “He threw more strikes overall, we saw his stuff really tick up as well, and he just did an incredible job of punching batters out and limiting damage if we brought him into a high leverage situation. Just impressive all around and it was exciting for us to see him make his Major League debut.”

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Right-hander John Gant has signed with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball, as first reported by Daily Sports in Japan. The team has not yet formally announced the agreement, but sources confirmed the deal to MLBTR. It’s a one-year contract.

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Gant, 29, elected free agency early in the offseason after the Twins passed him through outright waivers. The longtime Cardinals righty landed in Minnesota (alongside minor league lefty Evan Sisk) via the deadline trade that sent J.A. Happ to St. Louis.

The 2021 campaign was something off a mixed bag for Gant. Although he posted a plenty respectable 4.09 ERA in 110 innings, he also logged the second-lowest strikeout rate (18.7%), the highest walk rate (14.5%) and the lowest average fastball velocity (92.4 mph) of his six-year Major League career. He’d have been arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter had the Twins opted to keep him on the 40-man roster.

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While Gant has never been a dominant strikeout arm or a pinpoint command specialist, he still carries a very solid 3.89 ERA through 372 2/3 Major League frames. He was particularly effective out of the St. Louis bullpen from 2019-20, pitching to a combined 3.43 ERA with a near-identical 3.44 FIP through 81 1/3 frames. He fanned 23.6% of his opponents against a 12.4% walk rate during that time, adding a hearty 49% grounder rate as well.

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Gant has worked as both a starter and a reliever in his big league career thus far, with a good bit more success in relief than out of the rotation. The Fighters, however, could potentially deploy him in the rotation. Former big leaguers Drew VerHagen and Robbie Erlin both made some starts for the Fighters this past season — the former more effective and more heavily used than the latter — but both became free agents at season’s end. Gant is the second former big leaguer to join the Fighters late this week, as they announced a deal with infielder Arismendy Alcantara earlier today.