Joe Mauer Trade Scenarios: 5 Reasons the Twins Should Deal Star Catcher

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 13, 2012

Joe Mauer Trade Scenarios: 5 Reasons the Twins Should Deal Star Catcher

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    A couple years ago, the notion that the Minnesota Twins would trade Joe Mauer was pretty much unthinkable. They would never do that.

    Nowadays, they just might. As Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reported, the Twins put Mauer on waivers in August. They didn't end up moving him, and it's very much debatable whether actually moving him was their plan all along. What's true either way is that placing a player on waivers in August is always a pretty good means to get an idea of how much trade value he has.

    As such, the Twins could trade Mauer this winter if they are so inclined. There would only be two questions standing in their way.

    One: Can they trade Mauer?

    And two: Should they trade Mauer?

    Whether or not they'll be able to find a taker for him is anyone's guess. That's ultimately dependent on the second question, and the answer to that one is fortunately pretty easy to formulate.

    The answer is yes. The Twins most certainly should trade Mauer.

    Here are five reasons why.

    Note: Stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

He's Not the Player the Twins Thought They Signed

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    Without context, the eight-year, $184 million contract extension that Mauer signed back in March of 2010 looks like a mistake. These days, he certainly doesn't look like a player worthy of over $20 million per season.

    With context, however, his contract extension still looks like a no-brainer.

    When Mauer signed it, he was fresh off an MVP season that saw him hit .365/.444/.587 with a career-high 28 home runs in just 138 games. He also won a Gold Glove.

    At the time the deal was struck, ESPN's Buster Olney hit the nail on the head when he wrote that Mauer was "generally regarded as the American League's best player and may be baseball's most coveted player." He was baseball's golden boy.

    Things have changed pretty drastically over the last three seasons. Mauer is now largely overlooked on the national landscape, in part because the Twins have become a mess of a team and in part because Mauer's skills have diminished.

    Most concerning of all is the fact that it's become apparent this season that Mauer isn't a full-time catcher anymore.

    The word from the St. Paul Pioneer-Press is that the Twins are hoping to have Mauer catch more than he has this season in the future, but disrupting the status quo that has been established in 2012 will be awfully risky. Mauer has essentially split his time between catching, playing first base and DH'ing, and in return the Twins have gotten 131 games and a .319/.414/.447 triple-slash line out of him.

    Production such as this must not be put at risk because it's basically the high-water mark for Mauer at this point in his career. The power that he showed in his MVP season in 2009 is long gone, and was probably a fluke all along.

    With his power gone and his full-time catching days possibly done for good, Mauer is no longer the power-hitting, do-it-all elite catcher that the Twins thought they were going to have for years to come. Had they known this was going to happen, they probably never would have signed him long-term.

    Since they can't take the contract back, trading him is the only way to minimize the damage of their misstep. And trading him sooner rather than later is definitely in their interest.

He Still Has Enough Trade Value to Satisfy Twins' Needs

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    In a perfect world, the Twins will be able to dump the entirety of Mauer's contract while getting prospects in return if and when they do decide to trade him.

    Basically, they'd make a trade similar to the one the Boston Red Sox made with the Los Angeles Dodgers in late August. They managed to dump a ton of payroll while also getting some quality young players in return.

    The longer the Twins wait to trade Mauer, the harder it will be for them to make a trade like this. Mauer's value has already eroded quite a bit from where it was in 2009 (when it was through the roof), and he's not getting any younger or better as a player.

    This offseason would be a perfect time to trade Mauer because he's proven a couple vitally important things this season.

    One is that he can still hit. A .319 average isn't going to win him a batting title, but it's right along the lines of the .323 career average that he entered the season with. 

    Two, he's still a very smart hitter. His .414 OBP is tops among all major league hitters.

    Third, he's proven that he can handle himself pretty well at first base. Per FanGraphs, he has a -0.1 UZR and a DRS of -1 at first base this season, numbers that make him about an average defensive first baseman. If he were to play there on a full-time basis, common sense suggests he'd get even better.

    Thus, the Twins can sell Mauer as a smart hitter who can both catch and play first base. Factor in Mauer's intangibles, and you have a star player who's well worth trading for.

    Getting prospects in return for Mauer would be ideal, but the club's top priority should be dumping his contract. It's getting to be a lot heavier than the Twins anticipated.

They May Not Be Able to Afford His Annual Salary for Much Longer

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    Before he signed his extension, the chief fear in Minnesota and in other circles around the country was that Mauer would ultimately end up with the Yankees or the Red Sox because the Twins wouldn't be able to afford to keep him.

    That the Twins ultimately signed Mauer to the largest contract in franchise history—not to mention one of the largest contracts in baseball history—took a lot of people by surprise. Could the small-market Twins really afford a $184 million contract?

    At the time, the answer was yes, and that had a lot to do with the fact that the Twins were moving into a new ballpark. As Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote at the time, the Twins were "intent on using enhanced revenues from their new stadium to retain their new core of superstars."

    Things worked out just fine initially. According to BallparksofBaseball.com, the move from the Metrodome to Target Field helped the Twins up their attendance from around 2.4 million in 2009 to over 3.2 million in 2010. The new ballpark had the desired effect.

    But the club's losing these days is killing the momentum the organization established in 2010. The Twins are drawing nearly 4,900 fewer fans per game in 2012 than they did in 2011. The only team in baseball that has experienced a worse attendance drop is the Houston Astros.

    Keep in mind that the Twins don't have a lucrative TV deal in place like the Yankees, Red Sox or Los Angeles Angels. According to Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com, the Twins' deal with Fox Sports North only pays them $29 million per season. The Angels' TV deal is worth $150 million per season.

    With a small TV deal in place and revenue from attendance declining, the Twins are going to have no choice but to make their payroll smaller until the wins start coming again. Jettisoning Mauer's contract is by far the best way for the club to clear the payroll space that it needs.

    Getting cheaper is only half the goal. The other half is re-investing some of the money that could be cleared by jettisoning Mauer into other areas.

The Money Invested in Him Could Be Easily Re-Invested Elsewhere

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    According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Twins opened the 2012 season with a payroll over $100 million for the second year in a row.

    With attendance declining in front of their very eyes, it will be a shocker if the Twins open the 2013 season with a payroll over $100 million again regardless of whether or not they trade Mauer. They need to be as cheap as they can get.

    The problem, as John Bonnes of StarTribune.com pointed out, is that the Twins' payroll really can't go much lower. They have roughly $70 million in salaries committed for 2013. Factor in options, arbitration and free-agent signings that the Twins must make, and it's clearly going to take a lot of creativity to keep the team's payroll at a reasonable figure.

    Now, if they were to get rid of Mauer's $23 million annual salary, on the other hand...

    In that case, they'd have an extra $20 million or so to re-invest as they see fit, and there's really no understating how huge of a boon that amount of money could be to this team's plans for the future.

    For one, that's money that they could eventually use to extend Denard Span, who is having arguably the best season of his career in 2012. The Twins could also look to lengthen their partnership with Josh Willingham, who is only signed through 2014.

    In the short term, the Twins could put some money toward some starting pitching help, something that they desperately need. 

    Many years from now, the Twins could use the money saved from Mauer's contract toward some of the young prospects they have coming up through the pipeline (see Sano, Miguel).

    Preparing for the future should be the Twins' top priority at the moment. The present isn't what the Twins figured it would be, and that leads us to the final reason Mauer needs to go.

The Time Is Right to Abort a Plan That Has Gone Badly Awry

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    When the Twins signed Mauer back in 2010, the hope was that he would be the centerpiece of many winning teams in the years to come.

    It's obvious now that this is not going to be the case. Over the last two seasons, the Twins' best-laid plans have gone horrible awry. They're going to lose over 90 games once again, and all signs point towards the team not being ready to contend again for at least a few more years.

    As such, concerns such as money and what kind of player Mauer is and will become are just part of a larger question:

    Given the state the Twins are in, what's the point of keeping him around?

    Mauer is not going to make them a playoff team all by himself. The Twins lack pitching, and they also lack pitching prospects and the funds to go out and acquire pitching. The Twins are a decent enough offensive team, but they lack the explosiveness to compensate for the club's lousy pitching staff. 

    In all, they just don't have enough talent. To make matters worse, they share a division with a Tigers team that is loaded with talent, a White Sox team that always has more talent than people think and a Royals team that has a ton of young talent and more on the way every year.

    Things would be different if Mauer and Justin Morneau were still two of the game's very best players, but they're not. Morneau is a fading star, and Mauer has gone from being arguably the game's best player to being just another very good player. Over the last couple years, the core that the Twins built themselves around has basically become obsolete.

    It's time to switch it out for a new one, and the Twins won't be able to do that until they find someone to take Mauer off their hands.

     

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