When I was researching around the Twins’ signing of Andrelton Simmons, I came across Keith Law’s evaluation of the top 100 prospects in baseball. Like a lot of fans, I wondered if Simmons on the roster was a trial run for when Royce Lewis came to the major leagues. Could Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez function without stable positions?
Law’s evaluation of Lewis made me rethink everything, but also made me sure of something else I’ve suspected for a while. First, the crux of Law’s insight into Royce Lewis:
I see Lewis as a leadoff hitter with huge speed and plus defense in center,
Whoa. Center? Maybe the Twins could hang on to Simmons after this season if both parties are comfortable with the relationship. But… center for Lewis? That’s a new wrinkle.
Byron Buxton, the incumbent center fielder, has two years left until he reaches free agency. Unlike many of the other members of the young core, Buxton has not reached an agreement on an extension, If anything else, one might speculate that Buxton is sour on the organization after a bit of play time manipulation in 2018 as he battled injuries and was not allowed to return, granting the team the 2022 season for control over Buxton’s contract.
He’s approaching his prime, to be sure, and is an incredibly valuable asset. The Twins are better with him on the field. But the Twins may already have a replacement waiting in the wings. Lewis’s bat may not be ready, and nobody will ever match Byron Buxton in the field, but the Twins are in the rare position to be able to transition from one capable center fielder to another.
There is another important player expected to reach the open market after next season, and the Twins don’t seem to have a ready replacement. Jose Berrios has also resisted overtures at signing an extension with the Twins, and the team doesn’t really have a prime pitching prospect to take his place. A fitting replacement for Berrios might be available in exchange for Buxton.
Sure, this could all be turned on its head tomorrow if Buxton or Berrios decide they want to retire as Twins, but I don’t think that will happen. At the same time, I don’t think a Buxton trade is happening tomorrow, but don’t be surprised if he is wearing another team’s colors in 2022.