It’s been a tumultuous few years for Minnesota Twins‘ catcher Joe Mauer. Mauer, who is a hometown kid was a Minnesota darling during the first half of his career. He hit for average, played gold glove caliber defense and was a source of pride for many Minnesotans–earning him the nickname ‘Baby Jesus’. Then, in 2009, the soft-spoken kid absolutely popped off on his way to an MVP award. Suddenly, the guy who was used to lofting the ball over the shortstop’s head was slamming the ball over everyone’s head. His 2008 home run total of nine more than tripled in 2009 and his batting average skyrocketed 30 points.
While this newfound production was welcomed by the Twins, it also came at an awkward time for them. Mauer was entering the last year of his contract and the team had to pay the Minnesota native–letting him test free agency would have been too risky. Instead of getting into a bidding war with a big market squad they resigned Mauer with a year left on his contract. They rewarded their backstop with a eight-year/$184 million deal making him the richest catcher in Major League History.
Since then, things haven’t gone so smoothly. With more money comes more expectations and 2011, the year Mauer’s deal kicked-in, he simply didn’t meet those expectations. He started the year on the DL with a mysterious “bi-lateral leg weakness” which limited him to 82 games where he hit .287 with three home runs and 30 RBI–not exactly the line of a $23 million/year superstar. And while there were plenty of Mauer apologists, some of the media and fan base turned on him. Baby Jesus had fallen from grace.
Over the last two years, Mauer has rebounded nicely. Last year he hit .319 on his way to a .416 OBP and 85 RBI. These are very nice numbers–but not superstar numbers. And because of Mauer’s injury-prone legs, the Twins have started phasing him out from behind the dish. When he’s on, the guy is still one of the best defensive catchers in the game, but last year he only played 74 of 147 games behind the dish. And therein lies the problem: his value came as a catcher. His contract was based on him putting up a strong offensive campaign while catching. $23 million/year is way to much to pay a 1st baseman or a DH that hits 7-15 home runs and knocks in 70-90 runs a year.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Joe Mauer as much as the next Minnesotan. But his superstar contract eats up too much of the Twins’ payroll to be a light-hitting 1st baseman or DH or corner outfielder. Mauer is a very nice ball player and seems like an even nicer guy and it’s great having him on my favorite squad. But at what expense? He’s only 29 and when he’s behind the dish he makes the Twins’ offense and defense better. He must catch or rediscover the power output which earned him the contract in the first time. Until then, he’ll be considered and face the repercussions that come with that. Come on, Joe. We all believe in you. It’s time to step it up.