We find ourselves staring at the Minnesota Twins, now two-thirds of the way through the 2014 season, and more notably, the first of Joe Mauer being a full-time first basemen. While Joe as a player is quite arguably one of the best in the game, his contract and place on the Twins have been more than a scrutinized topic.
In baseball, contracts mean very little, they are little more than a comparing system to pit one player against another for an evaluation standpoint. With no hard salary cap in place, teams don’t ever find themselves up against a true limit. However, for a small market team like the Twins, to fans, a big number can be a daunting thing to overlook.
Joe Mauer is paid for what he brings to the Twins. He is the hometown kid who has been an MVP and All-Star caliber catcher, one who has shown some pop in his bad, and a marketing tool that all too often goes overlooked. Unfortunately, none of that holds true when Joe finds himself off the field.
Following a concussion in 2013 that led to Mauer’s season ending on August 19, the Minnesota Twins and Joe Mauer decided to remove the catcher position from the equation, and make a full-time transition to first base. Mauer had previously played the field, but never full-time, and never because an injury dictated the situation.
Mauer currently has six gold gloves as a catcher, and holds a 33% success rate when it comes to throwing out runners over his 10 seasons as a catcher (well above the league average of 27%). The move to first wasn’t forced by a decline or lack of ability, but by injury, and the thought was that first base would keep the Twins most valuable asset on the field.
In 2014, Mauer has only played 76 games, a mark that signifies should he play every game from here on out (he’s still currently on the DL), he would play in 128 games. Last year, Joe Mauer played in 113 games, the third fewest in his career.
Mauer is batting .271/.342/.353 (all career lows) on the season. While I don’t subscribe to the idea that the corner infielders have to be huge power guys, they need to produce. Mauer has two home runs on the season, with 28 RBIs (Chris Colabello had 30+ RBIs in April), and has struck out 64 times (a number that is still on pace for a career high).
For the Twins, the unfortunate reality is that Joe Mauer’s contract, his position, and even his ability aren’t to blame. As a baseball player however, he may just be too fragile to expect much more out of.
Mauer is an elite player when on the field, and depending on his career from here on out, still have Hall of Fame aspirations. He shouldn’t be traded by the Twins, because he still means more to them than anything they would ever receive in return. At this point though, he shouldn’t be looked as a cornerstone of what is to come.
Minnesota has a great opportunity to bounce back in a big way in 2015. With the talent the farm system has, the Twins should return to relevancy. Joe Mauer is a professional hitter, and his batting average should return towards its .320 career mark in 2015, but Joe Mauer will be a complimentary piece of what the Twins build going forward.
At first base or behind the plate, Mauer is still a man with a multitude of talent, but unfortunately for the Twins, he also attracts a multitude of maladies.