The Minnesota Twins may be watching the end of an era as Joe Mauer will consider retirement this offseason. Who might replace Mauer if he does retire?
Minnesota Twins fans have been pondering the whole season just how much longer hometown hero Joe Mauer would continue playing baseball. At 35 years old, and at the close of one of the most polarizing contracts in sports, Mauer is reportedly going to consider retirement this offseason. If Mauer chooses retirement, just how ready are the Twins to replace him in the lineup and on the field.
After a season of what felt like vintage Mauer in 2017 where he slashed .305/.384/.417 his 2018 hasn’t been quite as good. While it isn’t as good as 2017, Mauer has still had a solid 2018 as he has slashed .276/.345/.377.
Even if those stats frustrate you as a fan because you would like more power out of the first base position, there is no denying that Mauer has continued to play above average defense and get on base well as the leadoff hitter. The latter being a role the Twins have struggled to fill well probably since trading away Denard Span.
That brings us to ponder the question that will cause a generation of Twins fans to feel lost. What does a Twins team look like without Mauer suiting up for the team day in and day out? You may remember not too long ago we put together the case to why the Twins should re-sign Mauer, but if he opts for retirement we are now going to look at just how the Twins could replace him in the lineup.
As things currently stand, Tyler Austin would likely be the favorite to take over for Mauer at first base. Austin would certainly represent a shift to the type of player that more traditionally fits the mold of a first baseman in the major leagues as power is what is most notable about the former Yankee. The question facing the Twins is which Austin would the team have over the course of a season. The August version that slashed .263/.328/.649 with seven home runs or the early September version which saw him disappear for a time and at one point was slashing only .125/.192/.125. Thankfully he has rebounded a bit and now holds a September slash line of .229/.263/.343. Nothing spectacular but a good rebound after that rough start. Regardless of who Austin truly is, it looks like he will have some role with the Twins in 2019.
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The Twins could decide to move Miguel Sano to first base if they decide to bring in a starting caliber third baseman to take his place at that defensive position. The obvious name there is Eduardo Escobar, but the Twins will even have the money to chase Manny Machado if they chose to. While Sano can certainly bring power to first base, his overall performance at the plate hasn’t produced very good results, even after his reboot mid-season. Since returning to the majors July 28th, Sano has slashed .195/.294/.390 with six home runs.
Looking to the minors the Twins most obvious Mauer replacement is LF/1B Brent Rooker. I certainly don’t have any insider information, but ever since the Twins chose to aggressively promote Rooker last season I have always had a feeling that if all things broke right the front office would like Rooker to be Mauer’s replacement at first base. Whenever that day comes for Twins and Mauer. The problem right now is that Rooker may need a bit more seasoning in the minors before taking a spot on the major league roster after finishing out the 2018 season with a couple of months of hitting under a .200 average.
The Twins could always look outside of the organization to sign a player to fill the Mauer vacancy. We already covered one approach where the Twins could sign a third baseman and move Sano over to first. It looks like the current options this offseason for first base would be and underwhelming group including the likes of Matt Adams, Lucas Duda, Marwin Gonzalez, Mark Reynolds, and Danny Valencia. All could fill a role, but none are likely to make anyone too extremely excited.
First base is supposed to be the easiest position defensive position to fill on a roster. While the Twins have lots of options with upside, the current roster doesn’t have a clear-cut player to take over for Mauer at first base. That paired with the group of available free agents we may realize that while we have as fans at times been frustrated by Mauer’s production, we may need to admit that it may be harder than we thought to replace or find an upgrade over him in 2019.