From Charley Walters (TwinCities):
Joe Mauer, despite catching regularly for the Minnesota Twins and missing the first 22 games with a sore back, still has 179 hits this season — without steroids. That’s just two fewer hits than Barry Bonds had in one season during his 22-year major league career. The most hits Bonds had in one season was 181 in 1993 for the San Francisco Giants.
Mauer is not only leading the American League in batting average (.371), but in on-base percentage (.442) and slugging percentage (.606).
Mauer, 26, can become a free agent after the 2010 season. When contract talks get serious after this season, the Twins are expected to try to sign Mauer for about $120 million over seven years.
The New York Yankees, however, with catcher Jorge Posada at 38 years old, are expected to offer more money and possibly more years.
If the Twins offer Mauer 7 years at $120 million, they’ll be undervaluing him. According to FanGraphs, Mauer has been worth an eye-popping $35.6 million this year (7.9 WAR). While he won’t get that annually, he could very well earn over $20 million per year. However, being a catcher both hurts and helps Mauer’s cause in that his offense is above and beyond the production of the average catcher, yet catcher’s are injury risks in their own right (and Mauer has somewhat of a checkered injury history). Any team willing to commit that much money to the catcher’s position, along with 7 or more years, are taking on a significant investment and one with great risk. This might help to keep Mauer’s payday lower than what it should be (it’ll still be a lot, of course).
If Mauer doesn’t provide Minnesota with a discount, rejects their offer, and hits free agency, will the Yankees be willing to offer him a 7-8 year deal worth $160-170 million (we’re talking Teixeira money)? Mauer will only be 28 at the start of the 2011 season, therefore, you’d be getting him for at least 3 of his best years (assuming he stays healthy). There are some factors that complicate matters, though, if the Yankees do intend on adding Mauer to their lineup.
First, the team is in need of a left fielder for next season. If they were to sign Matt Holliday or Jason Bay (Holliday is the best option), then they would likely bow out of the Mauer sweepstakes in 2010 for financial reasons, as either player would require a fairly lucrative long-term deal (that’s on top of the contracts that they’re already paying for). If they don’t sign either player and try Johnny Damon on a one-year deal, then I would expect them to be serious suitors for Mauer once he hits free agency. What the Yankees do this offseason, spending-wise, could shed light on whether or not they’ll pursue Mauer. However, in terms of a Mauer signing, left field is not the only issue at play.
The second element is super prospect Jesus Montero. If the Yankees believe Montero can remain a catcher—it’s very unlikely, but they’ll give him every chance to succeed there—then they could stay out of the Mauer market. It is up to Montero though, to improve at his position, defensively. If they decide that he does not have a real future there, then the Yankees could move him to another position. However, given his physical limitations, primarily his lack of foot speed, the only other options for Montero are DH and first base. While first base isn’t a possibility (Teixeira), the Yankees could try Montero as their regular DH in 2011. That would then open up the door for Mauer to become the team’s catcher.
Of course, we must not forget about Jorge Posada. Posada is signed through 2011, though I doubt that would stop the Yankee from acquiring Mauer. Posada could be shifted to the DH role for the final year of his contract. Yet, as I stated a moment ago, Jesus Montero’s role with the club could effect things. Montero may be ready for 2011, therefore, having Jorge as your DH would hinder a possible promotion for the top prospect. Still, Montero will only be 21 through the ’11 season, meaning that the Yankees could simply keep him in Triple-A for more experience (it would also help them in that it will prevent Montero’s free agency clock from being started). That would allow them to bring in Mauer and keep what is hopefully a productive Jorge Posada in their lineup, as well. If Posada wants to keep playing after his contract has expired, perhaps he could return as the DH (this will hinge on his ability to play, price, overall effectiveness, Montero’s readiness, etc.).
In sum, the Yankees could very well pursue Mauer for 2011, as Posada’s career will be ending at that point in time. With Jesus Montero in the catcher pipeline, the Yankees could also choose not to bring Mauer in, in the hopes that Montero will become Manny Ramirez behind the plate. However, Montero—with his size and lack of defensive tools—could ultimately outgrow the position, which would then create an external need for a successor to Jorge Posada. The Yankees could then opt for Mauer, assuming that they have the necessary funds. But, if the team signs one of Jason Bay or Matt Holliday, then their pursuit could be very limited. Regardless of whether or not the Yankees intend on actually signing Mauer, you can be assured that they’ll try to remain active in his market in order to drive the price up. The Red Sox will also be in search of a new catcher and Mauer will be the first, and possibly the only, name on their shopping list.