Let's just assume for now that Joe Mauer, after 2 weeks of rest and strength training for his legs, will return to form in May, from his case of bilateral leg weakness that has landed him on the disabled list. If that's the case, I have little doubt that he'll be back to batting .300, with some power, catching a good game, and being a cornerstone of this team. There are larger issues, however, that necessitate discussion.
This may be viewed as a knee-jerk reaction, and it perhaps is, but this latest injury, in my opinion, simply underscores the fact that Mauer's years as the Twins' catcher are numbered. There is no doubt that, when healthy, Mauer provides great value for the Twins: you can count on one hand the number of above-average defensive catchers who win batting titles. In fact, you might only need one finger for that calculation. When healthy, Mauer has the ability to change games in single at-bats, even without hitting home runs. When healthy, he is an electrifying player. The problem, as all Twins fans now know, is that, by playing catcher, Mauer rarely is 100% healthy.
I am interested in this from a Minnesota Twins business standpoint. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I advocated moving in the fences at Target Field to accommodate players, specifically Mauer and Morneau -- not because these players had complained about the fences -- but because the Twins have long-term commitments to the M & M boys that will approach a quarter of a billion dollars. Viewed in that context, in terms of maximizing your investment, moving the fences is at least worth a serious discussion at the front office. Similarly, the Twins are married to Joe Mauer for this year and at least 7 more. And I have little doubt that, when his contract expires, he will sign some sort of legacy contract to remain a Twin for his career. This is especially the case if this current crop of Twins is able to win a World Series some time during the 8 years. In the end, I wouldn't be surprised if the Twins paid Mauer another $50-$75 million after this contract expires. To that end, from a business standpoint, the organization must to what is necessary to protect, and to maximize, its investment in Mauer.
It's time to face the fact that, as a catcher, Mauer is going to have chronic problems that will only get worse as he ages, and that it is time to discuss where else on the field he can be moved. Not in 3 or 4 years, but much sooner. For $23 million a year, I either want Mauer playing 85% of the games at catcher and batting like he bats when healthy, or playing a corner outfield position, or third base, playing in nearly all games. Sure, he won't be worth the same to the Twins playing outfield as he would catching, but at this point, the organization needs to think about salvaging Mauer's future.
Mauer still is the best player on this team, when healthy; he still regularly changes the course of games, when healthy; he still is electrifying to watch, when healthy. He can do all of those things at a number of other positions. Bill Smith and the front office need to start having serious discussions on this topic.