Remember how excited we all were when Wilson Ramos came up to the big leagues?
Ramos banged out seven hits in his first two games, and he immediately won thousands of fans around Twins Territory. Even the guy whose job he was competing for, Drew Butera, became a Ramos supporter (at least I think he is… Butera always wears Ramos’ first name on his chest protector). Around that time, some online writers started floating the idea that Ramos and Joe Mauer should share time behind the plate. The idea was that Mauer would catch 100 or so games and Ramos would catch most of the rest. While Ramos was catching, Mauer would DH or play in the outfield, and vice-versa. It was a win-win situation. Joe Mauer‘s legendary bat would stay in the lineup while he avoided the wear and tear of everyday catching, while Ramos added punch from the backup catcher position on an everyday basis.
But for some reason, people seemed to lose interest in that plan after Ramos was traded to the Nationals. That’s really too bad, because it might have saved a lot of wear and tear on Mauer last year.
Good news: the plan doesn’t have to stay dead! Ryan Doumit just strolled into town, and he’s as ideally suited for the catcher platoon as Ramos. Not only that, but the Twins roster is better suited to the catcher platoon idea than it was two years ago.
Doumit is coming of a .303/.353/.477 performance. He hits from both sides of the plate, and he has enough power to make a manager want to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis. Sure, he’s not a wizard behind the plate, but he’s no Rube Baker, either. We heard over and over last year that some Twins pitchers preferred Drew Butera’s “low target” over Mauer behind the plate. Well, Doumit is about five inches shorter than Mauer, so his target should be plenty low.
Here’s my proposal: Mauer catches 90 to 100 games, sits on the bench as the DH for about 30, fills in at first base for most of the rest, with perhaps a start or two at third base or right field just to keep us on our toes. Doumit catches 40 or 50 games, bats as a DH for about 60 to 70, and plays first base for about 30 or 40. Justin Morneau would play 80 or 90 at first base, and he could DH when Mauer or Doumit played first. Though I am reluctant to advocate keeping Butera in the Majors, he could catch when special circumstances arise: doubleheaders, day-after-night games, general soreness, etc. If prospect Chris Herrmann continues to improve after his impressive Arizona Fall League performance, he could replace Butera as the number three catcher next summer sometime. There’s probably some room for Chris Parmelee in this arrangement, but let’s give him some time in AAA first.
The advantages are obvious. Mauer could ease back into catching after an injury-riddled 2011 season, and he could also hone his skills and flexibility at other positions. When he has to move for good a few years down the road, he’ll have plenty of experience at his new spot. Doumit is a good enough hitter to fill a lineup slot every day, and this arrangement would keep him there. It would limit Doumit’s injury vulnerability as well, no small concern given that has been to the training room even more than Mauer. Finally, it would make things easier on Morneau, who has suffered relapses on his concussion symptoms while playing in the field.
Now I know that the Twins will not advocate this plan publicly. Mauer is on the record stating that he’d like to catch 120 games next year. And the team has stated that they want to try Morneau at first base full time. But why? Is there any reason, other than stubbornness, that Mauer has to catch a certain percentage of the team’s games? And if Morneau is in danger of aggravating his head injuries, doesn’t it make sense to limit his exposure?
The Twins’ roster is actually better suited to this arrangement than it was in early 2010. Back then, Jason Kubel was penciled in as the regular DH, and Jim Thome took up a roster spot as a pinch hitter/backup DH. Carrying a third catcher would have crowded out valuable roster slots and left little room for utility infielders and extra outfielders. But now Thome is gone, Kubel is likely to leave, and the Twins do not have a viable starting designated hitter. They can afford to keep Butera as an emergency catcher in case the other two are both in the lineup.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this plan since Doumit signed. In fact, I hope I’m not. I really would like to think that Terry Ryan and/or Ron Gardenhire are secretly planning to do something very close to what I just proposed, despite their statements to the contrary. The upside is very high, as it could boost the health and energy level of the team and keep good hitters in the lineup. The downside is minimal. If for some reason the arrangement failed, it would cost nothing to abandon it midseason, or after 2012 when Doumit’s contract expires.