Mauer reaches pinnacle of his profession

I’ve said a lot of dumb things in nearly three decades on this planet, much of those spent as a sports fan.

Rewind back to 2001, when the Minnesota Twins – after years and years spent in the basement of the AL Central – found themselves in the hunt for a division title. Ultimately, the Cleveland Indians would win the Central in 2001, but the Twins had clearly turned the corner thanks to a group of young players led by Torii Hunter, Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie and Brad Radke.

The Twins had the No. 1 pick in the 2001 June amateur draft by virtue of a terrible 2000 season under two-time World Series manager Tom Kelly. It was in that draft the Twins chose Joe Mauer with the first overall pick, a hometown high school catcher from Cretin-Derham Hall.

I was awfully critical of the pick. I said at the time the Twins were going the cheap route by taking a high school kid instead of a more proven college commodity like pitcher Mark Prior. The Twins were using the fact that Mauer was a Minnesotan as an excuse as to why they wouldn’t spend the money for Prior or another college star, Mark Teixeira.

The Twins in 2001 were finally good again, too, and a college-aged player would be more ready to help that group win. Instead, it would be a few years before Mauer got to the big leagues, and I thought the Twins window may have closed by then.

And over the years, Mauer has continued to make that argument look more and more silly. I was definitely wrong, and Mauer showed me long ago that he was worth the gamble. Prior’s career has been hampered by arm problems after a good first season with the Chicago Cubs.

Mauer won the AL MVP on Monday, beating out Teixeira for the honors. The AL’s leader in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage collected 27 of 28 first-place votes. As I anticipated yesterday, it was a bit of a landslide.

And now the minds of Twins fans turn to Mauer’s contract, which runs out at the end of next season. With an MVP award and three batting titles under his belt, is Mauer too expensive for the Twins to keep? Can the organization afford to let him go, much as it has with previous stars like Hunter and Johan Santana?

I don’t think the Twins can afford to let him walk. I continue to believe the two sides will get an extension done, and it will happen this offseason. The bigger challenge for the Twins might be trying to field a quality team around Mauer when he’s making $20 million per year, roughly 20 percent of the projected payroll.

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