Saturday, April 14, 2012

For better or worse (almost surely worse), Twins couldn't let No-Power Mauer leave

The Twins simply had to sign Joe Mauer, a St. Paul kid, a top draft pick and a multiple All-Star who would have been courted by at least a dozen teams with lots of money to spend.

When the sides came to terms on that eight-year, $184 million contract extension through 2018, Mauer was coming off an outstanding 2009 season, his fifth straight good year. He had been mostly healthy and productive, he was only 27 years old and he was a fine defensive catcher. Even if the Twins believed he wouldn't be able to play such a physically demanding position for the entirety of the contract, they had every reason to think he was a good enough athlete to play elsewhere. Failing that, he could always be a DH down the line.

The public-relations hit they would have taken by letting a hometown hero go elsewhere -- especially after ownership had fleeced taxpayers for a new downtown ballpark that supposedly was going to let them compete financially with the big boys -- would have been devastating.

Yes, the Twins had to keep Joe Mauer.

So my previous post was not meant to rip them for Mauer being a bust. It was more about calling out those from Minnesota who have criticized the Angels for signing Albert Pujols -- who, unlike Mauer, will be remembered as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.

Mauer has failed to live up to the contract ... but is that really his fault? He is who he is. Aside from his one big year, he hasn't been much of a run-producer. (And even in that one year, he was no Albert Pujols.) He needs to hit better than he has the last couple of years, but he'll never be Johnny Bench.

Joe Mauer was the beneficiary of incredible timing: He had his career year just as the Twins were preparing to move into a new ballpark and just as his contract situation had to be addressed. More power to him (if not to his bat).

Look, I know "bust" might be too strong a word. If Mauer can stay healthy, he has a chance to be kind of a Mark Grace of catchers. High average, lots of singles and doubles, good glove, good guy in the clubhouse. That isn't necessarily a bad thing ... if you can ignore the fact that he will be paid a gazillion times more than Grace ever made.

When you are a limited-revenue team like the Twins and pay a singles hitter $23 million a year, you probably won't be able to acquire the kind of run-producers and pitchers necessary to compete for championships.

Still, in 2010, the Twins had to do this deal with Mauer. That's life in the big leagues.

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