Who Is That Masked Man? The Twins' Options to Replace Joe Mauer
It is no exaggeration to say that Twins fans are waiting with bated breath to hear how long All-Star catcher Joe Mauer will be out. Heck, even Joe Mauer seems in the dark about when he can take the field again.
Each week that passes raises the possibility that Mauer will miss regular season time, considering he has not faced live pitching since September. Reports are that he can swing and throw, but still cannot run (Mauer was never the fleetest of catchers, but he's no Molina brother either).
So, if Mauer faces a lengthy layoff, who gets the unenviable task of filling in for one of the best catchers in baseball?
Redmond may seem to be the logical choice, since he has been Mauer's back-up since joining the Twins in 2005. However, Redmond is still with the team primarily for his clubhouse leadership and mentoring ability, not for his skill, which is on a three year declining trend.
Once one of the best back-ups in baseball, Redmond will turn 38 this season and would himself need a back-up to spell him for at least two to three games per week. In truth, it would be more of a platoon situation that the Twins don't want to deal with.
Manager Ron Gardenhire has already said that Redmond's job on this team is as the back-up; just because the starter is gone doesn't mean Redmond's duties will change.
The 26 year-old has battled injuries for much of his minor league career, but when healthy, he has shown himself to be a solid contributor. Morales is getting a long look since he makes the most sense to replace Mauer.
Morales is one of the best hitting catchers the Twins could conceivably use, hitting over .300 in both of his last stints in AAA, though last year's iteration was cut short by injury.
This could be a huge opportunity for Morales to attract suitors from other teams; due to Mauer's prowess and Wilson Ramos' potential, Morales is quickly becoming the odd man out.
However, this is exactly why the Twins have kept him around, and if he can perform at the level he has shown before, the Twins may not lose too much ground even if Mauer is out for more than a few games.
Butera was a throw-in in the Luis Castillo deal, mostly as a favor to his father, Sal, who was on the 1987 World Series team. Butera has been a pleasant surprise, showing good defensive instincts and solid game calling skills. However, he has no discernible offensive prowess, neither power stroke nor speed, so his utility is limited.
If the Twins choose to go in this direction, it is an indication that Mauer won't be out long, since Butera isn't a legitimate long-term option. Nevertheless, he'll get plenty of reps in camp to prove that he can hack it at in the majors.
Ramos is a very solid player, ranked seventh in the organizational prospect ranking by minor league guru Seth Stohs, fifth by Baseball Prospectus, and third by Baseball America. He is just 21 years-old and has shown a cannon arm and impact bat from the behind the plate. Ramos is the type of player that makes moving Joe Mauer out from behind the dish a sensible move.
The knock on Ramos is that he's young, which will almost certainly get better with age. When your entire pitching staff is under 30, having a catcher who knows the ins and outs of calling the game is not just a nice bonus, it is an absolute necessity.
Ramos has never played above A-ball, so to throw him into the show at this stage of his development is likely to do more harm that good.
If this were 2011 and Mauer went down, Ramos probably gets the call to replace him, maybe for good if Mauer can adapt to another position, but its 2009 and he simply isn't ready.
It's too early to get your Jose Morales jersey printed, since Mauer hasn't been told whether he'll miss time or not. However, if the diagnosis comes back as something that will hold him out of workouts for more than a week more than he's already missed, Morales is my pick to replace him—with Redmond backing him up, of course.
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