Minnesota Twins: Twins need to keep Mauer at catcher the rest of his career

MINNEAPOLIS -- The best thing that has happened for the Twins in 2010 when it comes to personnel remains the announcement on March 21 that Joe Mauer had agreed to an eight-year contract extension.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The best thing that has happened for the Twins in 2010 when it comes to personnel remains the announcement on March 21 that Joe Mauer had agreed to an eight-year contract extension.

The deal will conclude after the 2018 season, when Mauer will be 35 and rivaling Mickey Cochrane's .320 as the highest career batting average in major league history for a catcher.

Mauer will have the advantage in that generational competition with the option to serve as an occasional designated hitter, and perhaps fill-in occasionally in left field or at first base in the years ahead.

Yet, if the Twins are smart, and they have been more often than not over the past decade, and if Mauer is smart, which he has been through a remarkable athletic career, then catching will remain his task for 100 or more games per season through the length of this contract.

Catching is where Mauer maximizes the edge he gives the Twins over opponents. Catching also would be Mauer's route to Cooperstown, a worthy goal for a player with three batting titles at age 27.


There were many conclusions reached last week when Mauer had a chance to drive in a lead run in the seventh inning against Cleveland and tried to bunt for a hit.

There were loud voices proclaiming that this proved Mauer was "soft" as a competitor, and that the Twins already should regret the $23 million-per-year contract that kicks in next season.

As a Twins follower from Day 1, I declared the Mauer bunt to be the second-worst play in the team's 50 seasons, trailing only the play at Met Stadium on Sept. 5, 1978, when Disco Dan Ford failed to score from third before Jose Morales successfully made it home from second.

This observation came with no other conclusions on Mauer as a competitor, or the wisdom of his enormous long-term deal. The attempted bunt was an astounding blunder for a player with Mauer's baseball instincts, but not more than that.

As it turned out, Tim Laudner went on FSN and offered in four words what I considered the bottom line on Mauer's bunt: "Ballplayers do stupid things."

It would have been comforting to all if Mauer had offered a similar postgame assessment, but he tried, instead, to explain. You can be offended, or you can write it off as a defense mechanism familiar with great athletes -- the refusal to second-guess an effort.

A leading proponent of this was Tiger Woods, and it worked extremely well until he ran into that mailbox last November.

This Mauer season has been a flop, in comparison to 2008, when he was tremendous, and a 2009 of absolute greatness. It was a season that will define Mauer at his optimum, as 1977 defines Rod Carew.


Believe this or not, but my concern over what might lie ahead for Mauer in 2010 dates to Jan. 30 at Twins Fest. He was scheduled for the Saturday morning radio show of which I'm a co-host. There were 3,000-4,000 people waiting an hour in the right-field seats for Mauer's appearance.

I asked Joe during a break about his post-MVP schedule. It sounded hectic.

"Are you heading from here to Fort Myers to kick back for a couple of weeks before the start of spring training?" I asked.

The answer was no. Mauer was on his way to Los Angeles to tape a national commercial. There would be another stop or two before he would make it to Florida.

Mauer's routine had been to spend a large hunk of the offseason at his Fort Myers home -- time in the batting cage or in the workout room in the morning, golf in the afternoon, and then whatever.

Sounds like a perfect way for a player to ease his way toward the season. And then Mauer signed with IMG, and he became the MVP, and the super agency decided it could turn the low-key Irish kid from St. Paul into the face of baseball, and his offseason schedule was transformed.

It was Mauer's decision to go along with his marketers, so a hectic offseason is no excuse for his subpar production. This is more curiosity if our guy Joe might look at his current numbers and start figuring R&R might be more helpful to his career than IMG.

Reusse writes for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

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