So obviously Joe Mauer‘s contract is nowhere near the magnitude of a number in the trillions, but the debate amongst those across Twins Territory would lead you to believe that it might as well be. Joe Mauer is signed with the Minnesota Twins through 2018 on an 8 year contract worth $184 million. On a per season basis, the new Twins first basemen is scheduled to make $23 million. So what are Twins fans up in arms about?
Through 68 games this year, Joe Mauer is batting .261 with an on base percentage of .334. He is slugging his lowest percentage of his career (.673) and has still yet to pass Chris Colabello in the RBI department (Colabello had 30 RBI’s in 40 games prior to being demoted to Triple-A, while Mauer currently sits at 22).
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Each of those numbers suggest a strong regression for Mauer, a guy who has won three batting titles, led the league in on base percentage twice, and also won an MVP award.
The Minnesota Twins, on the heels of a concussion that ended Mauer’s 2013 season, decided to move the Minnesota native to first base full-time this season. While not behind the plate, Mauer was expected to take less of a beating on his body, and be able to perform at a higher level overall.
Few Twins fans believed that a move to first would induce the massive power numbers that normally follow corner infielders, but few could have predicted that things would go this route either.
Mauer himself pointed out something that seems so simple, it may have been overlooked. While not being behind the plate, his vast understanding of the zone, even prior to stepping into the batters box, has been removed. No longer is he able to analyze where an umpire is calling pitches or how aggressive he needs to be, he is having to retool his approach to hitting on the fly. A guy with the ability at the plate that he has, should be able to handle it, but growing pains aren’t out of the realm of possibility either.
At this point, Joe Mauer has come under more fire than any other point in his career, and his contract seems to be right in the middle of it. Twins fans are very used to the sentiment that Minnesota is a small market team and that big name players as well as big dollar amounts simply don’t happen here. While that thought process isn’t all that far from the truth, it also couldn’t be further from the problem.
Contracts in baseball, are only relative to the guy sitting next to you. Major League Baseball employs a luxury tax, but is void of any hard salary cap. With this situation, teams are free to spend whatever, on whomever, as long as it is within their means. The Minnesota Twins chose to give Joe Mauer, a native of the state, a three-time batting champ, and a guy (outside of this year) on a path towards the Hall of Fame, $23 million a year.
The Pohlad’s have long been known as cheap owners, but Joe Mauer and his contract don’t tip the scales in on direction or the other. Reality is that the Twins aren’t yet in a position to spend. The money is more than available should the Twins want to use it, but as baseball teams are constructed, it doesn’t make sense to do so.
With a farm system so studded with young talent, the Twins are waiting to make the big splash, the one that propels them further as an organization. As prospects are called upon to contribute at the major league level, and as the team’s talent level as a whole rises, the money will be spent. Free agency in baseball is best employed as a supplemental strategy. The best teams grow their talent, and pair it with established players off the market.
While Joe Mauer no doubt is having a year that is far from characteristic of his abilities, he also has not hamstrung the Twins into not making moves in the future. Joe Mauer as a baseball player, will find his stroke and once again command the plate with a bat. Joe Mauer as a franchise piece, will serve as apart of an organizational asset that goes on to return the Twins to relevance. Contract or not, money couldn’t be of further irrelevance in many cases surrounding this diamond.