Scoggins: Buxton at ‘peace’ on Opening Day, now hopeful for good health

Every conversation related to Byron Buxton requires a disclaimer. You know the one.

Buxton can become a legitimate MVP candidate if…

Buxton is a superstar and one of Major League Baseball’s best all-around players if…

Heck, even Buxton offered the disclaimer unsolicited before a workout at Target Field on Wednesday.

“All I’ve got to do is stay healthy,” he said, “and I know what I can do.”

The entire baseball world knows. We’ve seen it, and it’s electric, his talent. The way he can take over a game and send a charge into a ballpark with his defensive wizardry, his power at the plate or when he’s running the bases like the Road Runner cartoon character.

But then he’s gone, sidelined by injury, replaced by that pesky disclaimer.

That’s not a criticism. Only a lament. Injuries happen. Unfortunately, Buxton has dealt with more than his fair share. He’s had some awful luck.

So here is one wish on Opening Day 2022: Let Buxton enjoy good health for once this season. For him. For his team. For fans. For all of baseball.

Question posed to him earlier this week: If you stay healthy, Byron, how much damage can you do?

“A lot,” he said. “I haven’t played enough to tell you that, but it can be a lot.”

Every bit of that answer is true, a cruel reminder of his setbacks.

Buxton begins his eighth major league season Friday having played in 100 games only once. He has been on the injured list 12 times in his career. And yet the organization absolutely made the right decision in signing him to a seven-year, $ 100 million contract this winter.

Committing that kind of money to a player with extensive injury history brings risk, but in Buxton’s case, the move was also a no-brainer. He is too talented and too vital to success for the team to choose any other option.

Wheelin ‘and dealin’ Derek Falvey had a busy offseason reshaping the roster, and the Twins president of baseball operations kept tinkering right up to the season’s first pitch with another trade Thursday.

The makeover has included signing superstar shortstop Carlos Correa and executing a series of moves to plug holes in the starting rotation. The Buxton Effect will have as much impact on the season’s outcome as anything.

Since 2016, the Twins have won 55% of games in which Buxton plays and only 44% when he’s not available. They are 273-220 in Buxton’s entire career when he plays. Those analytics aren’t a coincidence. He makes the team markedly better in all facets. Conversely, his absence is glaring in all facets.

Want to predict their record this season? Use a sliding scale based on the number of Buxton games is in uniform. The more he plays, the better the record. It’s that simple.

“Staying on the field is the main key for me,” he said. “As long as I stay on the field, I know I’ve got a lot of energy to bring to the clubhouse and throughout the dugout. That’s kind of what gets us going.”

Buxton described himself as being “at peace” knowing he has long-term security in Minnesota now that the trade-him-or-sign-him question has been resolved. Perhaps that peace of mind will translate onto the field in some way. Less mental clutter is always helpful.

Spring training results have no bearing on the regular season, but Buxton left Florida in a groove, hitting .469 with five home runs in 32 at-bats.

“He came into camp in a wonderful spot in every way,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think he’s dying to get the season going.”

Buxton gushes about the department chemistry with the arrival of Correa and others, calling it “night and day” compared to a year ago.

“Everybody in there is focused on one thing and that’s winning,” he said. “It’s very special right now, the things that are going on in that clubhouse.”

More fun too?

“100%,” he said.

He is 28 and in his prime, happy and armed with contract security. Now all Buxton needs is something that has been so elusive – sustained good health – to show the full and complete version of himself.

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