Joe Mauer is on his way to a mostly healthy and certainly positive season in 2012, which brings Minnesota Twins fans a big sigh of relief. How can the Twins ensure or, the very least, improve Mauer's odds of staying healthy and productive next season?
Move Mauer to another position in 2013.
Baseball has seen what devastating injuries can do to catchers. Baseball has also seen what the daily grind can to do to catchers. Therefore, the Twins should not risk the sweet-swinging Joe Mauer's career anymore.
This article discusses why Mauer should not be playing catcher in 2013.
Mauer's long history of injuries needs no introduction. However, one must consider the nature of these injuries. Torn meniscus in left knee left quad strain, sprained left knee, sacroiliac joint, bilateral leg weakness and pneumonia. With the exception of pneumonia, Mauer's injuries heavily involve the legs and lower back.
Arguably, said injuries could have been avoided or recovery time shortened if Mauer was not catching. For example, Mauer's bilateral leg weakness has been attributed to lack of leg conditioning following his offseason knee surgery. Mauer missed about two months of baseball because his legs were not ready for the daily grind of catching. Perhaps he should not have been rushed back to catching.
Alternatively, a position that is more forgiving on the legs would have suited his recovery.
The Twins cannot risk another debacle like 2011.
MLB is a business. Like any business, shareholder and investors want a maximum return on their investments. Every MLB team has large investments. The Yankees have Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the Rangers have Josh Hamilton and the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Similarly, the Twins have Joe Mauer.
In 2011, the shareholders did not get much of a return on Mauer. Unfortunately, MLB players have been reduced to investments, but once again, MLB is a multi-billion dollar business.
Shareholders want to ensure that their $184 million investment gives the Twins a maximum return in the years to come. They cannot take any more chances by allowing Mauer to catch and risk serious injury.
More than any other position, catcher takes the hardest toll on the knees and lower back. The constant crouching and standing up is hard enough on the body. Catchers are also constantly catching 95 mph fastballs, hit by foul tips, blocking wild throws with their chest and occasionally steamrolled by charging base runners.
In recent years, catchers have seen their fair share of serious and freak injuries. Some sustained injuries included broken bones, separated shoulders, concussions, fractured testicles and internal bleeding. Some players have been able to recover from these injuries, while others were forced to retire.
With all of his hitting talent, the Twins need to consider moving Mauer from catcher.
A handful of players have switched from catcher during in their career and found success at new positions. Most notably, Craig Biggio and BJ Surhoff spent their first few years catching before switching to other positions.
Craig Biggio primarily played second base after three full seasons as a capable catcher. Biggio earned four Gold Gloves, six All-Star appearances and four Silver Slugger awards after moving positions. Though he was a successful catcher, Biggio was even more successful at 2B and in OF.
BJ Surhoff spent his first six seasons at catcher, posting a mere .268/.315/.357, averaging seven HR, 71 RBI 64 R per 162-game season. After switching to third base and outfield, Surhoff improved to .289/.341/.442, averaging 17 HR, 86 RBI and 80 R per 162-game season. He also earned an All-Star selection and finished 16th during his non-catching tenure.
However, these two players changed considerably early in their careers. What is Mauer to do?
Mauer certainly would not be the first catcher to switch positions at the midpoint or later in his career. However, if Mauer were to change fielding positions, he would benefit from changing soon.
Take, for example, the offensively dominating catcher, Mike Piazza. The Mets sent Piazza to play first base at age 35, where he never really took to the position. He returned to catcher for the next two seasons and then retired a year later, as a 38 year-old DH. Clearly, Mauer is well-known for his defense, while Piazza never was, but there is still a lesson to be learned.
Piazza was at a crossroads: Keep catching and shorten his career or DH and extend it. Unfortunately, he did not go the AL until he was 37, when he switched to DH. Piazza most likely would have been a DH long before had he played in the AL.
No one wants to see Mauer as a burnt-out catcher in his mid-30s. He needs to change positions to preserve himself.