The Minnesota Twins being in Boston for the week means one of baseball’s most forgotten superstars is in town.
Joe Mauer is at Fenway Park for a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox, reminding us that, well, he still exists. Once one of baseball’s most recognizable figures, Mauer is in the fourth year of an eight-year, $184 million deal he signed with the Twins prior to the 2010 season, a deal that will go down as one of the worst in MLB history.
Handed the Johnny Bench label as the next all-time great catcher early in his career, Mauer hasn’t been a full-time backstop since 2010 — a season before the deal went into effect. He hasn’t caught a single game in 2014, relegated to first base/designated hitter duties.
Granted, it’s not the end of the world that Mauer isn’t catching. The problem is that he isn’t hitting either. A winner of three batting titles and a .319 career batting average, the 31-year-old is hitting just .258 in 2014. He is hitting for no power either, with two home runs and 13 extra-base hits on the heels of averaging just eight homers and 36 hits for extra-bases between 2011-13 — all for the price of $69 million for the Twins, $23 million per year.
But the scariest part of this narrative? This contract could’ve easily been the property of the Red Sox.
Now, luckily, Mauer cashed in with Minnesota after his Brady Anderson-like 2009 season, in which the man with 107 home runs to his name in 4,626 major at-bats belted 28 round-trippers in 523 at-bats en route to winning the AL MVP. For much of the ’09 season, many Red Sox fans watched Mauer rake with visions of the then-26-year-old dancing in their heads, as he was set to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2010 season.
The stars were aligned. Mauer would come riding in from the distance on a white horse — a horse Jason Varitek would then use to ride off into the sunset.
And had he been a free agent, there’s a good chance it would’ve happened. Ratings on NESN were down. The Red Sox needed to ‘win in more exciting ways’ in the eyes of Tom Werner. Who better than Mauer to right the ship? In an offseason where the Sox valued Carl Crawford at $142 million, who knows what they would’ve churned out for Mauer?
The Red Sox needed to address the catching position with Varitek clearly at the end of his career. Mauer was the rare combination of a guy who could be elite not just at the plate, but behind it as well. He was an upgrade over Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the heir to the captain at the time.
The Red Sox brass would’ve successfully replaced the most beloved catcher in team history with a catcher who had a chance to be the best catcher in team history, or they could’ve at least sold it as that. It’s not Alex Rodriguez in a Red Sox uniform, but it’s up there with the best deals to never happen in Boston.
All fans can do is be thankful he’s in the dugout on the third base side.