Joe Mauer: Dream or Reality?

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.

13 thoughts on “Joe Mauer: Dream or Reality?

  1. You’re also forgetting the possibility that Felix Hernandez will be on the open market. Given the choice, I think the Yankees would choose to spend money on a Number 1 type starting pitcher than a catcher, especially given that Sabathia will likely opt out of his contract at the end of the 2011 season.

    • The Yankees will definitely be in on the Felix market. He’ll be a free agent after 2011 (so a season after Mauer is signed). The Red Sox will also be in on him.

      In terms of CC, I wonder if he will really opt out of his contract. I guess it will depend on whether or not he’ll receive more money on the open market. I doubt he will at that point, as the Yankees gave him an offer that was above and beyond what others were willing to provide and he’s younger now. Then again, the Dodgers could always surprise everyone. Either way, there are a lot of factors at play.

      • I think Sabathia has a sense of loyalty to the cities he plays in as long as those cities have a sense of loyalty towards him and after a 19 possibly 20 win season this year and two more seasons as an ace New York should be nothing but crazy for CC. I really doubt he will opt out of the contract, I think the reason for even having the opt out clause was in case he came to New York and realized he was miserable and didn’t want to be their anymore, which is clearly not the case at the present moment and I don’t think it will be the case going forward. I could wrong, I mean I don’t know the guy so all this is speculatory but how many athletes take out an add in the paper thanking the people of a city after being traded like CC did with Cleveland? He just seems like one of the truly good guys in sports but again I don’t know him so I could be completely off base here.

    • If the Yankees are going after Felix Hernandez they would be better off to trade for him and make him sign an extension in the off season before the trade is completed, we would have to part with some prospects and Hughes would have to go but you would save a few million dollars by 1. Avoiding a bidding war with the Angles, Dodgers and Red Sox but also because after 2011 the economy should be in significantly better shape, it wont be healed but it will be an upswing almost for sure and the price of contracts should be going up, if you get him to sign a long term deal now, it would still be huge enough for him to sign it and be more than happy but you could save quite a few million.

      • I think that with the elite players, you’ll be hard pressed to trade for them and then sign them to an extension (the Santana model, I think, is rare). A guy like Felix Hernandez could very well receive the richest contract for a pitcher given his age. For this reason, he’s probably determined to test his options on the open market.

  2. I really don’t care for adding Mauer, I would like to see what our current roster of minor league catchers can do, why is everyone always so quick to jump on the bandwagon of the “new thing”? I mean he is a good player but he will cost a lot of money we can spend somewhere else (like on pitching) and with all the young catchers we currently have in the minors you would think that at least one or two of them will make it to the major league level as catchers, I mean Montero is almost certainly going to be a long term DH at some point but between Romine, Cervelli, Sanchez, Higashioka and Montero for at leas a year or so at C we should be able to get at least one catcher with the ability to hit well enough to play the position. It’s not like we need the number one hitting catcher in the league every year with the offense we can afford to put on the field day in and day out.

    • You wrote my comment. If Mauer does not re-up with Minny, he makes more sense for Boston than for us. I am also apprehensive about Mauer’s injuries.

    • That’s true, Chris (and Tom). The Yankees have a lot of talent at the catcher’s position. They could definitely replace Posada from within if one of their guys pans out. Of course, they could also choose to keep some of their young catchers and make a trade with them to help the club in another way. Once the 2010 season is over, I think then we’ll have a better grasp on what the Yankees intend on doing in the offseason and if they’ll pursue Mauer (maybe Montero will demonstrate a big improvement as a catcher). They definitely can’t be ruled out of the Mauer sweepstakes, though .

  3. I would say that it seems like the Yankees have been stockpiling young catching talent, Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Kyle Higashioka, and others because they know Posada has to retire eventually and that catching is a premium position. It is hard to get a deal there, meaning the Yankees would have to get into an ugly bidding war for Mauer or give up a boatload of talent in a trade. I think they’re going to do whatever they can to be able to bring a guy up from within. So no, I don’t think they’ll get Mauer.

  4. the only way the yankees will get mauer is if they thinkhe will end up a redsux. that they will not allow to happen sorry boston fans!