Minnesota Twins' 2013 Outlook: Joe Mauer and the Infield
Say what you want about Joe Mauer, but when he plays he is consistent.
The problem with that statement is that, in the 2012 season, Mauer has consistently been playing positions other than catcher. In fact, out of the 134 games Mauer's played this season, he has only been behind the plate 69 times, or 51 percent of the time.
Many fans have been clamoring for Joe to move from behind the plate ever since he signed his eight-year, $184 million contract in 2011, but it hasn't been only this season that those fans have been proven right.
Mauer may have been one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball at one time, but has been on a steady decline towards average since 2008 and has spiraled below mediocrity this season.
As of today, Mauer has thrown out only seven of 55 potential basestealers, or 11 percent of all attempts; that's 14 percent below the league average and 21 percent below his career average of 32 percent.
Perhaps this comes from a lack of repetitions, but it is more likely that Joe just isn't as quick as he was in his prime and is more suited to play a position that is less stressful on his body.
That position, of course, would be first base, where Mauer has played 28 times this season and seems to be becoming more comfortable with every time he takes the field.
That leads to the problem of the Twins' second-highest-paid player, Justin Morneau, and the uncertainty surrounding his health and status with the club.
Morneau has bounced back nicely from his nightmare of an almost two-year stretch to play in 125 games so far this season. Justin's numbers are not quite where they were where he left off in 2010, but he will almost certainly hit 20 home runs this season and drive in 80 runs. Not bad for a guy whom we thought might be done playing altogether before the season started.
That being said, Morneau is entering the last season of the six-year, $80 million deal he signed in 2008 and is probably the Twins' second-most coveted asset going into this offseason.
It is possible that Terry Ryan will continue to use Mauer and Morneau in the same roles as this year, but with the lack of success of this current Twins roster, it makes much more sense to move Mauer to first base full-time and turn Morneau and his expiring contract into younger players.
Did I mention that first base is the strength of this current Twins infield?
If I didn't, then the situations at second base and shortstop will surely make you long for the days of Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas.
Who will be the Twins' starting shortstop to start the 2013 season?
The current major league roster is populated by a plethora of utility infielders, headed by the ageless Jamey Carroll. To be honest, Alexi Casilla, Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar will be lucky to come near the length or relative success Carroll has found at the major league level.
Casilla, Florimon and Escobar all seem to possess the same tools; they are considered to be above-average in the field but are below-average at the plate. To add to that, Casilla and Escobar are much better suited to play second base and Florimon has been average at best at shortstop so far, despite the rave reviews from Triple-A Rochester.
And then there is Brian Dozier.
Dozier has had the most perplexing season of all infielders the Twins have used this year. He started off hot in the minors and then the majors, then cooled down and finally found himself toiling back at Triple-A so much he wasn't added back to the roster when they expanded in September.
Does this mean the end for Brian Dozier?
No, he will get every opportunity to regain a spot on the 25-man roster in spring training, but there have been rumblings (from the Sports Xchange via Yahoo! Sports) that the Twins are becoming more convinced that his best position may not be shortstop after all.
Will Joe Mauer be moved to first base full-time to start the 2013 season?
If that sounds familiar, it should because the same thing happened to current third baseman Trevor Plouffe during the dismal 2011 season.
Plouffe's bat was never in question, but his fielding at shortstop made it necessary to find Trevor a new position heading into 2012. Danny Valencia's fall from grace made Plouffe's transition to third base much easier, and the Twins are now hopeful that Plouffe will be able to produce until top prospect Miguel Sano finally is ready to claim the hot corner in a few years.
I still haven't mentioned catcher/outfielder not named Jason Kubel, Ryan Doumit or Drew Butera, but in the words of Denny Green, "They are who we thought they were!"
Along with first baseman/outfielder/Garrett Jones' clone Chris Parmelee, Doumit and Butera are players who rarely get press, but may somehow be underrated and overrated at the same time. Doumit is underrated for his bat, Butera his defense and Parmelee for his power. Unfortunately, the Twins can't combine them into one player who would be effective at all three things at one time.
The Twins will head into 2013 with a serious decision to make with their infield. Do they stand pat and hope for everything to click at once or do they make the tough choice and move Mauer to first base full-time and go from there?
Whether Twins fans like it or not, the success or failure of the 2013 season and the foreseeable future may rest on that single question.
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