Mauer Cashes In

Steve O Speak

The Minnesota Twins yesterday signed their All-star catcher Joe Mauer to an 8-year $184 million contract. It is by far the largest contract ever awarded in the Twins history and the largest ever given to a catcher. And in both cases, it was worth every single penny.

Mauer isn’t traditionally thought of as an elite player, but I don’t see how anyone can not have him among the top 5 players (really top 2) in the league. He is a superb defensive catcher, who just happens to be the best pure hitter in the American League. Going into last season the only “knock” on Mauer was the fact that he wasn’t a ‘power hitter’, since he had only broken double digit home runs once in his career. Well Mauer responded by hitting 28 long balls last season, during a season where he posted a .365/.444/.587 line. And he did all of that the majority of the time from behind the plate. He had between .50 and .60 points higher batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage higher than the next catcher, putting him in a category by himself. What’s most impressive about his numbers, particularly his home run total, is that Mauer didn’t play a game until May 1st last season due to injury.

Now usually when you see a jump in power numbers like Mauer’s you think that it is probably a fluke, but I would guess Mauer keeps churning out 25+ home run seasons and a slugging percentage over .500 for the next 5+ seasons. And in all honesty it’s quite possible that his numbers go up even more. Traditionally a player reaches his prime in his late 20’s early 30’s and will put up his best numbers during that 5-7 year span. Mauer just so happens to be turning 27 as this season begins, meaning his numbers aren’t likely a fluke. He was always projected to hit with power, and now we are finally seeing that come to fruition.

Now as big as that $184 million deal looks, let’s be honest, Mauer left money on the table. He would have been a free agent after this season, and barring some major injury would have been handed a blank check on the open market. Not only would the Yankees and Red Sox been falling over themselves to ink Mauer, but just about every team would have entered the bidding. Mauer is a once in a lifetime type talent, and is well on his way to going down as the greatest catcher in baseball history. Despite all the big name free agents to switch uniforms over the seasons, Mauer would be the best player to hit the market since Alex Rodriguez did a decade ago. He is an elite offensive and defensive player at one of the most premium positions on the diamond. I think just about every team would have been looking for someway, somehow to sign him. Probably the only teams who wouldn’t have been in the mix are the Orioles and Braves since they both have young elite catchers under team control for awhile. Everyone else from the Marlins to the Yankees should have been in the mix, and I believe that Mauer would have gotten $27-30 million a season on the open market.

Luckily for the Twins it was a no-brainer to open up their checkbook for Mauer, since he’s not only the face of the franchise, but the face of Minnesota. Mauer was born in St. Paul and wanted to be a Twin as long as they took care of him. It also helped that the Twins have a brand new stadium opening up this year, which means extra money. And the stadium opening gave Minnesota all the incentive they needed to lock up Mauer to a team record deal. They might have sold out opening day without him, but if they wanted anyone to show up for the rest of their games, they needed number 7 in the lineup.

Now with Mauer locked up and some of the other moves they have made recently, the future is bright in Minnesota. While this might not be the year they return to the World Series (that Nathan injury is a killer), it probably isn’t too far off. When they do, they will owe it all to their hometown hero, and feel pretty good about the money they spent.

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