Joe Mauer’s Move to First Results in an Overpaid First Baseman

Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I bought breakfast at 10 o’clock, I ate it for lunch at 12:30. This is what happens when the Minnesota Twins announce that their hometown superstar Joe Mauer is being moved from behind the plate to first base.

There’s no reason to complain though, because I like the move of Mauer to first. At least, I thought I did. That darn contract is going to get in the way again.

First, I was really quite excited about Mauer moving to first. It’s a pretty accepted fact that catchers get hurt and dinged up more than first baseman, so keeping the best hitter’s bat in the lineup is a good thing.

It’s all good and it got even better. The question was brought up who else has hit a minimum of .350, 15 home runs and 90 RBI while playing at least half their games at first base. This stat line is very Mauer like and something that he should shoot for, but it’s only been done 30 times in history at first base.

Jimmie Fox did it four times. Lou Gehrig five times. Todd Helton twice. Albert Pujols, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Cecil Cooper and Don Mattingly did it once. A different one caught my eye:

Stan Musial did it twice.

Actually, Stan the Man’s line is the closet to a Mauer-like line. In 1946, Musial hit .365 with 105 RBI and 16 homers. Musial won the MVP award that year, after not playing in ’45 due to military service.

Comparing Mauer to Musial is insane. Musial is one of the best baseball players of all-time, sixth all-time amongst hitter according to Baseball Reference, Mauer is not on that high of level, 258 all-time.

So who that meet the requirements of .350, 15 HR and 90 RBI does Mauer best resemble over at first?

John Olerud. He met those line requirements twice, 1993 and 1998.

They are quite similar players, both fielding and hitting.

John Olerud’s 162 Game Average:

jo162

Joe Mauer’s 162 Game Average:

jm162

Joe Mauer hits for a better average while hitting for a little less power. Mauer can only expect those numbers to rise at first, but we can’t expect them to jump exponentially at the age of 30. Mauer will turn 31 in April. What we’ve seen is what we’ve seen, for the most part.

Why is this a bad thing? I mean Jon Olerud was a darn good ballplayer. Two-time All-Star, three time-Gold Glove winner.

Olerud wasn’t worth $23 million dollars, neither is Joe Mauer.

Olerud’s big contract, signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and finished as a member of the New York Mets, had two highest paid seasons of $6.5 million. That’s not $23 million today. Via an inflation calculator, $6.5 million dollars in 1996 is still only $9,700,245 today.

There’s a big difference between $9.7 million and $23 million, $13.3 million dollars to be exact.

With Mauer’s higher batting average than Olerud, his better glove and the hometown/face-of-the-franchise factor, Mauer is worth more than $9.7 million dollars. Mauer is more in the range of $13-14 million dollars. The fact of the matter is that Mauer is simply not as valuable at first as he is behind the plate for the Twins.

Bygones are bygones and there’s really nothing the Twins can do about that huge contract, but think about what the Twins could do with an extra $10 million. That extra money gets you further from a Mike Pelfrey and on the doorstep of an Ervin Santana.

Mauer needs to stay and he needs to play somewhere, but he’s being overpaid.

Well played, Mauer.

Topics: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

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  • Ramon Lang

    Overpaid and overrated. Has no pop in his bat. Great singles hitter but you don’t give so much money to a singles hitter.

  • Erik

    I think Mauer’s “gaudy contract” gets in the way of how we view Joe. Collin you said it right with “bygones are bygones.” Fans should leave his contract out of it because that’s what he’s going to get and there’s no changing it. Yes his stats don’t stack up as well with first basemen compared to catchers but he’ll still be an annual All-Star threat if his head is right. Can’t change the fact that he got hurt so we should just embrace the change, no matter the contract.

  • Paul

    I’m with Erik on this one, leave the contract out of your evaluations of Joe Mauer. Yes, he will provide less value at first base, especially when looking at metrics like WAR that give catchers a strong positional bump, but as a first basemen, Joe should be playing everyday, that’s 20-40 games more than he’s been playing in the last, and that will help the Twins down the stretch. He’s not your typical first basemen, but he’s a very good player. I guarantee he’ll be a better first basemen that whoever the Twins were going to run out there. I hope the Twins go out and sign a veteran catcher to be a stop gap between the Mauer era and Josmil Pinto (who needs to work on this defensive skills and game calling). A.J. and his blonde locks could be a nice fit. and Ramon, Joe is more than a singles hitter, he’s a doubles guy too, which is why his SLG% was 11th in the league among first baseman last season. i also think not being at C will allow Joe’s legs to be healthier and so we may see him hit a few more dingers this year, especially with the increased playing time. I don’ t like this move, but only because I don’t want to like it. It makes sense. The Twins have a lot tied up in Mauer going forward and they need to protect that investment to get value out of him. I believe the Twins would be doing the same thing regardless of his contract status.

  • David Epema

    You are wrong to compare baseball salaries from 1996 to 2014 and only account for inflation. Baseball salaries have far outstripped inflation in the past 15-20 years. To be fair you have to compare Joe to his contemporaries. Joe will make around as much or a little less than Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, etc. Joe Mauer will be one of the best first basemen in the game and he will be paid like one. If you don’t want to pay superstar salaries then you don’t get to watch superstars play for your team.

    • Collin Kottke

      Fans didn’t get to see three of those players last year due to injury, past two for Ryan Howard. Tough to compare Mauer and Tex, when healthy Tex puts up twice the power numbers that Mauer has at his best. Fielder is an ironman that I love playing each game for the past four seasons, but his WAR is horrible. Fielder had a WAR of 1.7 this past year, Justin Morneau had a 2.0. At the moment, not too many highly paid first baseman are succeeding. Out of the top five 1st baseman this year (by WAR) only Joey Votto and Chris Davis were paid over a million dollars.

      • Brad Swanson

        Mauer’s career slugging percentage is .468, Tex’s is .525. Significant difference, but hardly twice as high. Also, Mauer’s career OBP is over 30 points higher and his career batting average is 45 points higher. Add it all up – Career OPS+: Mauer 136, Tex 130. Mauer did all that while catching regularly and taking the beating that a catcher takes.

        • Collin Kottke

          I was going for home runs and RBIs. Mauer hits an average of 14/87 and Tex is 31/119. Tex wins by 20 in OPS.

  • Larsbars08

    First of all, why do you care whether or not he’s overpaid or not? The Twins have dropped salary because of front office decisions, not because they don’t have the payroll flexibility. By Phil Mackey’s estimation, the front office had as much as 20 million to throw around last year that they didn’t. This year it’s even more. To blame Mauer’s contract is ridiculous. With the exception of the Bilateral Leg Weakness year, he’s been well worth the money. And it isn’t really hard to see him earning his contract at 1st base.

    Second of all, as long as he’s healthy he’ll play 150 games at 1B, as opposed to the 110 or so games he’s averaged over the last 3 years. Even with the positional switch, he’ll easily have a WAR of 4.0 or better, which would make him worth 20million on the open market. Currently the positional adjustment for WAR is about 2.5 wins per 162 games games as a catcher. The last time Mauer caught over 100 games in a season is 2010. Last year he caught 75 games at catcher, less than half a season behind the plate. Last year if he had played the entire season at 1st base he would have been at minimum 3.5 (Baseball-Reference) wins above replacement in offensive WAR alone. If he had played the whole season, he probably have made up the positional difference with more playing time. If he turns out to be a good to great defensive 1st baseman, than that number would only go up.

    Tim Lincecum just got paid 35 million for two years. You can’t seriously compare the current free agent market to the free agent market of 20 years ago. You can compare him to Teixeira or Fielder, but considering that Mauer outhit the both of them last year, and has outhit Teixeira basically every year since Teixeira signed with the Yankees (except for 2011), I’d certainly take Mauer at 23million.

    It frustrates me to read stuff like this. We have had the privilege to watch one of the all-time greats play. Through age 30, Mauer has had the sixth best career WAR by catcher, behind guys like Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Joe Torre and Ted Simmons. That’s two Hall of Fame catchers, Pudge will be voted in as soon as he’s eligible. Joe Torre and Ted Simmons both are on the cusp and probably deserve to be in as players. I’m glad I got to see Mauer play catcher, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in a Twins uniform for another 7-8 years.

    End rant.

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