Keeping Mauer is simply a smart baseball decision

I know this marks the third straight day of blogging about Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, but what can I say? He’s on my mind and a lot of other people’s minds after winning the AL’s MVP award on Monday.

Forum colleagues Eric Peterson and Heath Hotzler got into a good debate on "Sports Talk" – as always from 1-2 p.m. weekdays on 970-AM WDAY – regarding Mauer’s future with the team. Mauer, of course, is entering the final year of his contract.

Peterson said that the Twins should keep Mauer at all costs. Hotzler said the Twins should trade Mauer because his value will never be higher and because paying for Mauer would mean the Twins would be unable to afford to put adequate talent around him.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I side with Peterson on this one. And anyone who reads this blog knows I’m a big fan of Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated. He’s got a great post about Mauer on his blog that all of you should read here.

My belief is that Mauer is the most irreplaceable player in baseball. He’s a catcher coming off of a season that he hit .365 with 28 homers. There is no other player in the game today with that type of skill set who can play catcher. Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals is the best player in the game today, but no player would be tougher to replace than Mauer.

As Posnanski points out, who’s even remotely in his class? Victor Martinez put up great numbers, but he plays quite a few of his games at first base. Brian McCann is a great catcher, but his OPS was roughly 200 points lower than Mauer’s in 2009. And after that, who are we talking about? Mauer leaves, and the Twins sign Miguel Olivo?

I haven’t forgotten who manned the backstop position for the Twins in the 1990s. Greg Myers, Matt Walbeck, Marcus Jensen, a washed-up Terry Steinbach, Matthew LeCroy

From a public-relations standpoint, the Twins should keep Mauer with a new stadium on the horizon. He’s from Minnesota, which gives him the "one of us" billing. But even if he was from Myanmar, the Twins should keep him.

The Twins would be challenged to put adequate talent around Mauer because he’s likely going to get an extension paying him $20-25 million per year. But the Twins will always be challenged because any team that’s not the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets or Cubs must develop young players in order to be successful.

Target Field is supposed to fetch the Twins an additional $40 million in revenue each season, which in turn is to lead to a $20 million jump in payroll. So signing Mauer and building a team around him is no more challenging now than it was before, considering the payroll boost.

I heard the argument today that the Twins just don’t operate this way, that they don’t sign players to contracts like that. But rumor had it that the Twins offered Johan Santana a five-year, $100 million deal before trading him away a couple years ago. Granted, everyone knew he wouldn’t take it, but the Twins must have been somewhat serious.

The difference between the Twins’ situation now and in the past is they actually have their own stadium. They’re in complete control of their financial well-being. I read earlier today that the Vikings – per the Metrodome agreement – received all of the money from luxury suites at Twins games, plus 75 percent of concession money. Why do you think the Vikings are ramping up efforts to get a new stadium? The Twins dough isn’t there anymore for them.

Should the Twins be concerned about a player like Mauer eating up 20 percent of their payroll? Not as concerned as they should be about life without him. Re-signing Mauer to a contract like that isn’t about numbers like that. Catchers that hit .365 don’t grow on trees.

Re-signing Mauer is simply a smart baseball decision.

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.

Mauer should be celebrating

When the Minnesota Twins stepped onto the field at Yankee Stadium for Game 1 of the American League Division Series last month, they were heavy underdogs to the eventual world champion New York Yankees. A series victory for the Twins would have been considered a huge upset.

The tables have turned when it comes to the American League MVP award, which will be announced Monday.

Twins catcher Joe Mauer is the front-runner to win his first MVP award. The other candidates – namely Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira of the Yankees – have great seasons. In many other seasons, they would have a legitimate chance.

But quite honestly, I’d be shocked – absolutely shocked – if Mauer didn’t win the award. In fact, I think when the voting is revealed Monday, the results will show it wasn’t even that close.

Let’s review the top three candidates:

  • Jeter: A very popular candidate, especially since he’s never won an MVP award. But as I told a colleague last week, this shouldn’t be a lifetime achievement award. He hit .334 with over 100 runs scored and improved defense when compared to past seasons, according to FanGraphs. He also stole 30 bases, which was nearly a career high.
  • Teixeira: He hit .292 with 39 homers, 122 RBIs and 114 runs scored, posting a .948 OPS. That’s incredible run production, making him in my opinion the top candidate from the game’s top team.  But an argument could be made that Alex Rodriguez is the more valuable player, when you consider how much Teixeira struggled when Rodriguez was out of the lineup in April.
  • Mauer: Led the American League in batting average (.365), on-base percentage (.444) and slugging percentage (.587), something that hasn’t been done since George Brett did it. And he plays the most defensively and physically demanding position in the game. I mentioned in a previous blog post that Ted Williams was the only hitter in the last 60 years or so to hit .380 with 30 homers in a season. Mauer was 15 batting points and 2 homers away from accomplishing that.

I think what should help Mauer the most is when you compare him to his fellow catchers. When you compare Teixeira to other first basemen, his numbers aren’t that much better than Kendry Morales of the Los Angeles Angels. Jeter was only slightly better statistically that Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays at the shortstop position.

But Mauer? Who else compares to him? From what I can tell, the next highest OPS among catchers in the AL is by Victor Martinez of Boston, and he also plays first base. Martinez, by the way, posted a .861 OPS, which is very respectable, but far less than Mauer’s league-leading 1.031.

In all likelihood Monday, Mauer will be joining an exclusive group of Twins players to win AL MVPs. The only other Twins to win are Zoilo Versalles in 1965, Harmon Killebrew in 1969, Rod Carew in 1977 and Justin Morneau in 2006.