I was busy working when I saw my phone light up. A notification on my phone from one of the many sports apps I have was the source saying “Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer officially moves to First Base for upcoming 2014 season.” This news to me was not something of sadness or even the slightest bit upsetting. Now I know the reason the Twins paid Joe Mauer with the biggest contract in Twins history was because he is an elite catcher, not because he makes a viable first baseman. However, I think this may have been what was expected toward the end of Mauer’s career, not when he was only 30-years-old. While his transition to first base may be much earlier than anticipated, this will end up being a huge perk for the Twins 2014 season and beyond. And not to toot my own horn, but it was something I alluded to just a week ago when talking about optimism this offseason and what was going to happen at first base.
Aug 5, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer (7) warms up before a game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
When Mauer was laid up with the mysterious “bilateral leg weakness” in 2011 and only caught 52 games that season, the signs that catching was taking it’s toll on his body were starting to add up. From 2011 on, Mauer has spent time catching, playing first base, being the DH, and even spent one game out in RF doing his best Sam Rice impersonation. During that time, the Twins and their fans were stuck watching the hopeless bats of Drew Butera, Rene Rivera, and Steve Holm fill in for Joe at the catcher position. And that was just in 2011. Add in Chris Herrmann‘s .056 average and Butera’s .198 in 2012, and you have an extremely difficult time looking back and knowing you spent countless nights tuning into a Twins’ game where Mauer probably was not behind home plate. From now on, he never will be and boy is that something I cannot wait to see.
Mauer revitalized the catcher’s position as a spot in the lineup capable of hitting well over .300 in a season instead of hovering around the Mendoza Line as we grew accustomed with Drew and Sal Butera playing backstop. His canon of an arm with pinpoint accuracy and flawless motion were extremely valuable and key in catching base runners when his pitchers were not taking 1.8 seconds delivering the ball to the plate. Mauer was one of the best to ever play catcher in the Majors when he was healthy, but what is stopping him from taking his very gifted talents to
South Beach first base? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Mauer is a special player and has proved he is able to convert to first base without much of a transitional period.
The Minnesota Twins have Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann, Ryan Doumit, and may possibly bring in a Free Agent catcher like Jarrod Saltalamacchia or A.J. Pierzynski. With the log jam at catcher on the horizon going into 2014, first base was left about as wide open as it has ever been since Justin Morneau arrived in Minneapolis. Now this is where logic comes into play as to why Mauer is a perfect fit for first base.
Mauer missed the last 39 games in 2013 with concussion-like symptoms and issues. Morneau missed almost all of the second half of 2010 season with concussion-like symptoms and was really never the same player since that slide into second base in Toronto. Morneau played first base before being traded. Morneau played goalie and catcher back in the day before switching to first base. Mauer and Morneau are best friends. Morneau has already reached out to Mauer saying how much better he will be feeling in playing first base. I may not be a genius, but it basically seems like there is no better fit to replace Justin Morneau than Joe Mauer. And that is why this has me so excited to see #7 at first base opposed to donning the “tools of ignorance” that comes with playing catcher.
Having a full year of no wear and tear on his body while playing first base will ultimately keep Mauer in the lineup for what should be 150+ games barring no setbacks with his concussion symptoms. A healthy, well-maintained Mauer will continue to improve and become closer to the player he once was prior to the bilateral leg weakness debacle. He will be able to provide a consistent bat in the middle of the lineup with the ability to get on base like only he knows how to do. And if that is not enough, imagine the strength he will be able to maintain without any foul tips or dings from grinding out nine innings of squatting four-five days out of the week.
Sep 15, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; The Minnesota Twins catcherJosmil Pinto
(43) walks to the dugout before the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Target Field. Twins win 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
I have had some time to think all of this over and it makes so much sense, even without the concussion symptoms being the main reason behind the transition. Regardless of the production Mauer may or may not give us in 2014, this frees up the opportunity for Josmil Pinto and allows for him to gain more and more experience as a 24-year-old catcher. Mauer was suppose to be there for another three, four, five seasons before his contract would end, but even with an early switch to first, this will be the best move for the Twins not only in 2014 but going forward. It allows the Twins to get a long look at what the have in the up and coming Pinto, secures their first base position so there is no need to go out and spend money on a free agent, but most importantly, it keeps Baby Jesus in the lineup. While many Twins fans believe this is not the right move and hurts the team, I firmly believe this will be the first positive step in the right direction for the hopefully new look Twins come 2014.
And that goes without saying every girl who loves Joe Mauer will be able to see his face clear as day at first base every game, but that is a WHOLE other topic…