Welcome to the first post in my blog, Twins Fan From Afar. Yes, I have entered the 2000s. I don't have a Facebook or Myspace page, and I strongly prefer CDs to anything on an Ipod, but I finally decided to begin sharing my thoughts, mostly on the Minnesota Twins and Major League Ball, on the internet, after commenting on many, many Twins blogs and Star Tribune articles over the past several years.
I thought I might be just a bit late on my first subject, Joe Mauer's contract extension, but wouldn't you know, in nearly every article written about Mauer (even today's blurbs about his knee injection, see http://www.startribune.com/sports/twins/116704389.html) are comments attacking Mauer for his $183 million, and the Twins for agreeing to such an extension. I have about had it.
Although I agree at the outset that Mauer's on-the-field contributions probably won't be worth $23 million a year, especially when he's 34 and no longer catching, this is old news. Get over it. Those of us fans who are over 20 lived through a decade (roughly 1992-2000) of simply awful baseball. If you don't remember, let me remind you: the Saints regularly outdrew the Twins, Pat Mears and Todd Walker were supposed to become stars of the team, and an over-the-hill Dave Winfield was probably the biggest attraction of 1993. Even after the team became competitive in the 2000s, it, for whatever reason, was unable to re-sign free agents like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana. Then came Target Field.
I went there for a game against the Rangers last June (incidentally, the game that ended with Orlando and Denard colliding in shallow center), and it truly is the best place to watch a game. The bottom line is that Target Field revenue has allowed ownership to nearly double the payroll over what it was the last year at the Metrodome. Twins Fans Rejoiced.
And most rejoiced when the Hometown Hero signed an extension last year during Spring Training. This signing represented a sea change for the Twins, in years, dollars and philosophy. Make no mistake: Mauer is overpaid at $23 million a year, especially given his propensity for injury, and the fact that his power numbers significantly declined in 2010. That being said, on the basis of other, more recent contracts (see Howard, Ryan; Werth, Jason; Crawford, Carl), and what we all know what will happen sometime in 2011 or 2012 (Pujols, Albert), it is evident to me that Mauer was paid in line with what other stars get paid. And, even if you dislike the guy, and are one of the people that refer to him as "Slappy Joe" (how could you?), it is undisputed that he is a star. Between the batting titles, video game covers and shampoo commercials, our Joe is the face of the Twins, and one of the faces of MLB.
When Pujols signs for close to $30 million annually, and is getting paid that amount when he is 40, Mauer's $23 million might not look so bad. Mauer, as has been stated by all Star Tribune writers and Ron Gardenhire, has the athletic ability to play a corner infield or corner outfield position and, playing in the AL, can DH. For Pete's' sake, the guy is so versatile that he likely could be playing in the NFL now. Pujols, should he stay in the NL, will be locked in at first base long after his power numbers decline. At some point, he will be a .270 hitting, 20 HR 1B earning a record contract (no disrespect intended - Pujols is the best current player, of course, and I hope he restores the home run title to a non-juicer). For my money, and for the Twins' money, Mauer is more versatile, and I have no doubt he has the swing to bat over .300 until he is 40 and has 3,000 hits, and I have no doubt that he will have decent production along the way, even with the spacious dimensions of Target Field.
Bottom line: as of 2011, the going rate for a star player is over $20 million a year, and this off-season saw no shortage of long-term contracts. The Twins, with their new revenue stream, signed their star hometown player to the first large, long-term contract since I have been around. Even after a (somewhat) disappointing 2010, I have no doubt that, were Mauer to have hit the open market this winter, many teams would have offered him the years, and more money, than he contracted for. Don't get me wrong, this was no hometown discount, but it was the first in what I hope is a new ability for the Twins to sign deserving players to long-term, market rate contracts.