Aug 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) high fives teammates after the game against the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. The Minnesota Twins win 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Twins Fans Treated to a Better Kirby Puckett, His Name is Joe Mauer

Alright Twins Territory and Minnesotans as a whole, lets put down the pitchforks and let the tar cool before we go and grab the feathers.  In all seriousness, the most polarizing topic surrounding Twins baseball is actually one that is very well worth discussing.  There likely have been no two bigger faces of Twins Territory than that of Kirby Puckett and Joe Mauer.

At this point in Joe Mauer’s career, we can finally start to line up his numbers against those of Puckett’s as their ages align at 31.  When the 1991 season came to a close, Kirby Puckett was 31 years old, the same age that Joe Mauer currently is.

So let’s look at a breakdown of statistics quickly:

Player A

5,006 AB
716 Runs Scored
1,602 Hits
266 Doubles
47 Triples
123 Home Runs
675 Runs Batted In
639 Strikeouts
.320 Career Batting Average
6 All-Star Game Appearances

Player B

4,740 AB
735 Runs Scored
1,513 Hits
304 Doubles
21 Triples
109 Home Runs
674 Runs Batted In
636 Strikeouts
.320 Career Batting Average
6 All-Star Game Appearances

If you guessed that Player A was Kirby Puckett, you would be correct, with Player B being Joe Mauer.  Looking at the comparison between the two, Mauer is roughly 250 plate appearances behind Puckett to this point in his career (a number he will not attain by the end of 2014).

While having less plate appearances, Mauer has essentially drawn even in every category outside of triples (which is fair considering the differences in their athletic frames).  So, with that in mind, why is Joe Mauer such a figure of criticism for Twins fans.

Could it be because of bilateral leg weakness?  Could it be due to having never played more than 147 games in a season?  Could it be due to the fact he no longer plays catcher?  Sure, it could be due to all of those things, but unfortunately the basis of Joe Mauer’s criticism is drawn from principles that matter little in the grand scheme of baseball.

Looking back at Kriby Puckett’s career, the glaring difference that is void from Joe Mauer’s 31 year old resume comes in the form of two World Series Championships.  While baseball is a team sport, and it takes a complete effort to be the best in October, Puckett is synonymous with bringing titles to Minnesota, fair or not.

Joe Mauer however is tied to a contract that doesn’t represent the value baseball fans believe it should.  In 2011, Mauer signed an eight year, $184 million ($23 million annually) contract to stay with the Minnesota Twins long term.  A contract of that size is supposed to be reserved for the likes of guys like Miguel Carbera and Mike Trout.

But why is that number synonymous with those types of players?

Is it because they hit massive home runs?  Is it because their teams are winners?  Is it because they drive in runs and have respectable power numbers?  Unfortunately, it’s synonymous with those players because that’s what a large contingent of baseball fans have deemed to be “fair value.”

Once again, a simple, yet often failed to grasp principle in baseball is that a contract is little more than a measuring stick in comparison to your peers.  An organization can pay any player whatever ridiculous sum of money they’d like, ask Albert Pujols and the Angels.  Contracts and the numbers they represent are some of the most irrelevant things in baseball.

Although Joe Mauer can be criticized for failing to keep himself on the field, and he can probably even be criticized for not developing a better power stroke in which he can drive the ball to the pull side of the field, he still remains a player that should be above criticism as a whole.

The Minnesota Twins may never win a World Series title with Joe Mauer, he may never drive in 100 runs, and he may never again hit 20 home runs.  Outside of the home run mark, Twins fans can thank former GM Bill Smith for those revelations.  Each of the former feats is largely dependent upon the team around a player, and Mauer can’t control that.

In Minnesota, Twins fans are getting to experience a once in a generation player.  A type of guy that doesn’t come around often, and a guy that last an even shorter period of time.  Sure, the Twins have some great prospects coming (Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano), but are you ready to claim either of them are the next prodigy before they see a major league pitch?

For his career, Joe Mauer checks in with a lifetime WAR of 45.0.  Kirby Puckett finished his career with a WAR of 50.9.  Mauer has four more years in the league before he hits 35, the age in which Puckett retired, the likelihood of him matching that mark as well looks very likely.

So Twins fans take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the baseball greatness you are being treated to.  Despite the missed games (which are deplorable), despite the poor teams around him of late, Joe Mauer is something you may never see again.

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