Much has been made over the production of Minnesota Twins’ All-Star catcher Joe Mauer since he signed an eight year $184 million extension to stay home with the Twins. Prior to the extension, Mauer had his best season as a professional, posting 28 HR and 96 RBI and winning his first and only MVP award; it came as no shock to anyone that Mauer was going to get paid and he was going to get paid MVP type money.
When the Twins signed Mauer to the extension, the move was celebrated and fans throughout Twins’ Territory took a collective sigh of relief. However since then, fan’s appreciation of Mauer has soured to the point that he has been criticized throughout multiple media outlets, and analysts and bloggers alike have called for the Twins to look into moving the face of the franchise. Not only is the criticism uncalled for, but it is also down right insulting. I will completely stand behind the premise that until the day Mauer’s contract expires, he is worth every dollar.
Fans look at the Twins and they see a rebuilding franchise that had shed payroll—which wasn’t expected after moving into a new ballpark in 2010—and yet still is “hindered” by Mauer’s large contract. This perception is nearsighted and doesn’t look at all of the contributions and value that Mauer has given to this organization and its fan base.
Without Mauer, I would argue the Twins would not have won a division championship in 2006, 2009 or 2010 because they would not have had the stability behind the plate defensively, nor the production that he gave the lineup especially with the absence of Justin Morneau during the 2010 playoff run. Without Mauer, the Twins would lack a “face of the franchise” that fans can resonate with because they consider him “one of us”, meaning those who were born and raised in Minnesota.
It is because of this “face of the franchise” label that Mauer still brings in fans by the thousands to fill Target Field every season even though the Twins are not competitive. If you scan the crowd at any of those games, who’s jersey do you see fans young and old sporting the most? You guessed it, Mauer’s. Finally—and most importantly of all—without Mauer, baseball fans would have never heard of bilateral leg weakness and understand the lengthy excuses and humor it can provide for analysts and players.
Mauer will not be traded because Twins General Manager Terry Ryan understands the importance of Mauer as one of the team’s cornerstones and also—more importantly—understands that if the team is to return to contention in two year, when the next wave of talent is major league read, Mauer is going to be needed to help that team contend. Only this time, Mauer will be a veteran and possibly not the centerpiece.
Any team would have paid 184 million to a superstar catcher entering his prime in 2010 and some teams would have even paid more, like the Boston Red Sox. It’s time for fans to stop whining about what Mauer has not done and instead appreciate him for what he has done and continually does for this team, franchise and fan base. Last season, Mauer rebounded and posted a .319 batting average with 10 HR and 85 RBI and competed for a batting title through the last week of the season.
With another healthy off-season behind him, I look for Mauer to have similar numbers, if not better numbers this season. Mauer will never be the power hitter that fan’s crave and he will never be the “prototypical number three hitter” in most big league lineups. However, Mauer shouldn’t be judged by that, nor should he be penalized for that. He should instead be celebrated for what he is: solid defensively, hits for above average and provides leadership and a face of the franchise Twins’ fans can be proud of.
To most franchises, would Mauer be worth $184 million dollars? Honestly, probably not. But the Twins—as we have seen by many of their roster moves—are not most franchises. He may not be the max contract type of player that other team’s covet and pay for, but here in Minnesota, he is a home-grown max contract player and worth every dollar. It is time fans appreciate him for what he is and enjoy watching one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game enter the prime of his career.