Today on MLB.com, there was an article about Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. The 25-year-old Mauer had surgery in December to correct a kidney obstruction. He now has recurring back problems, limiting his spring work to nothing more than agility drills. Baseball related actions have be minimal.
Due to the constant bending over for fielders and twisting for hitters, lower back injuries are detrimental to any baseball player, BUT EVEN MORE SO FOR A CATCHER.
Mauer is one of the finest young catchers in baseball and his career is destined for extreme stardom. After only four full seasons in the majors, Mauer has a .317 career average, and two batting titles. And for you saber heads, his career OBP is a robust .399! If only Mauer got the call on that close 3-2 pitch, it would be an even .400. That's HOF territory; at least that what JoePo would say.
What if Mauer missed the same amount of time that Alex Rodriguez misses? What team would miss their star player more? Both teams have playoff aspirations, and both also have tremendous starting pitching which could cover up any deficiency in offense.
While a previous piece talks about my suggestions for Alex' replacement, I do feel the Yankees will be okay with Cody Ransom at third base for a month or two. Ransom is a phenomenal athlete who is confident in his abilities, shows extreme composure, and understands his role. And while I really like the Twins' Brian Buscher for the Yankees, he is playing extremely well this spring, and will likely remain with the Twins. He has a great chance to win the Twins third base job over Joe Crede, but if he doesn't—and Mauer is out for an extended period of time—the Twins will need that left handed bat off the bench.
If Mauer is out for a month or two, then Mike Redmond is pressed into active duty. As a career backup, the 11 year, 38-year-old veteran Redmond has produced .292/.348/.365, with only 13 home runs and 231 RBI's in 2,066 at bats. His overall numbers on offense don't scare many people.
And the Twins would be hard pressed to use one of their younger guys in the catcher's role, with 25 year old Drew Butera a good receiver, but even worse with the bat than Redmond. Butera was obtained along with Dustin Martin from the New York Mets for Luis Castillo. Butera is nothing more than Redmond's possible replacement at backup catcher, but Martin has a shot at making the Twins 2009 ML roster, and is a budding power hitting outfielder.
But what if the Twins signed an experienced catcher to work with their young and really good pitching staff?
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez worked his magic in 2003 with the young Florida Marlins staff (Beckett, Penny, Willis, and Pavano) and in 2006 with the Detroit Tigers young rotation (Bonderman, Verlander, and Robertson).
Although rumored to be in the works with the Houston Astros and New York Mets, would the Twins have a need for Pudge as insurance? Pudge to the Twins as Plan B in case Mauer's absence is more than anticipated makes much more sense for player and team.
Since Mauer and A-Rod are important aspects of their team both offensively and defensively, each team will suffer with an extended absence by either player. Each team's pitching staff can overcome a lesser offense, but if Mauer is lost for an extended time—and the Twins stick with Mike Redmond behind the plate—they will lose more than just a few runs and wins.
They will lose the chance at winning the AL Central title and a playoff spot.