Will Byron Buxton Ever Play Outfield Again?

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A healthy Byron Buxton is the best outfielder in baseball. Anyone lucky enough to have watched a few dozen of Buck’s 543 big league games in centerfield would probably agree. But we can hardly call the former platinum gold glove winner an outfielder, at this point in his career, can we?

Buck the Designated Hitter

All of Byron’s appearances in 2023 have been at designated hitter, in the hopes of keeping him healthy for an entire season. Such extreme measures were warranted. But unfortunately, the results of this “do anything to keep him in the lineup” approach have been underwhelming.

Buxton is batting .209 with a .741 OPS so far this season and the offensive swoons have been much lower than any of successful stretches he’s been through. Staying out of the field hasn’t kept him healthy, either. Of the 74 games the Twins have played in 2023, Buxton has appeared in just 56 of them.

Don’t expect these numbers to convince Rocco Baldelli or anyone else in the Falvine regime to write Byron Buxton into the Twins’ lineup as a center fielder again. In fact, the 5th-year manager told media members on Tuesday that the onetime phenom defender hasn’t been healthy enough to play in the field all season.

“Physically, he cannot play in the field, I’ve said that from the first day until now.”

“At this moment in time, and from the beginning of the year, he has not been physically able to play in the outfield. If he was, he would be out there. If we even thought it was possible he could play the outfield right now, he would be out there. But he can’t. He physically can’t.”

Rocco Baldelli (Tuesday)
No center field this summer?

The more the manager talked the clearer it became. While he left open the idea that Buxton could still play in the outfield, we shouldn’t expect it to happen. At this point, I’m not even going to let myself dream about him roaming center field, should the Twins make a playoff appearance.

If he isn’t healthy now, after making 56 appearances as a hitter only, what should make us think he’s going to be healthy after another 50-100 games as a DH? More wear and tear, even if it’s only on offense, is unlikely to make him healthier than what he has shown so far.

“Do I think there’s a chance this year…? Sure, there’s a chance this year. Do I know what’s going to happen? I absolutely don’t. Nothing has really gone up or down on that scale since the beginning of the year. It hasn’t gotten closer and it hasn’t gotten further away. He is basically at a similar spot physically as where he was at the beginning.”

“He’s kind of treading water physically, just DH-ing at this point, where he’s not really getting worse, but it’s not really getting closer to him playing in the outfield. Is it disappointing to people who love watching him play? Yes. But it doesn’t change the facts of the situation.

Rocco Baldelli (Tuesday)
Will Byron Buxton ever play outfield again?

With or without Byron Buxton in center field, the 2023 Minnesota Twins should win the AL Central. Not because of how good they are, but because of how bad the rest of the division is. And 120 games with Buck as a designated hitter is better than what we’ve seen of him in the last five years.

But for the five years he’s under contract after this season (through 2027), Buck needs to play more outfield than he does DH, if he’s going to make anywhere near the impact the Twins need. And at this point, I’m starting to doubt that he’ll play defense ever again.

Byron had an entire offseason to get healthy and didn’t have to play in the outfield at all in spring training or to start the regular season. Yet, as Rocco pointed out, he still cannot get healthy enough to even consider putting his glove on during a game.

What should make us believe things are going to be any different as he plays into his 30’s (he’s 29 years old now)? There’s nothing wrong with being optimistic about this situation but, the more realistically I think about it, the less confident I become.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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