Would Losing Russell Martin Push Yankees Toward Joe Mauer Blockbuster Trade?

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Would Losing Russell Martin Push Yankees Toward Joe Mauer Blockbuster Trade?
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The New York Yankees probably had Joe Mauer measured for pinstripes a couple years ago, but he nixed the possibility of signing with them as a free agent when he signed an extension to stay with the Minnesota Twins.

Oh well. Maybe the Yankees will go get Mauer this winter instead.

The funny part is that I'm actually being serious right now.

Catcher is one of many question marks the Yankees are dealing with at the moment, and there's suddenly a real chance that they won't be able to secure a quick fix by re-signing Russell Martin. He has a number of other suitors, and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has reported that the Pittsburgh Pirates, in particular, are making a "spirited effort" to sign him.

Indications are that the Pirates could force the Yankees to match a three-year offer worth as much as $25 million. The Yankees supposedly only want to sign Martin to a two-year deal.

The Pirates outbidding the Yankees. Yes, it could happen. 

But knowing the Yankees, losing Martin wouldn't be the end of the world. Brian Cashman would just get on the horn and immediately starting shopping for better options, and he'd leave no stone unturned.

Thus, Twins GM Terry Ryan can count on getting at least a call about Mauer from Cashman if Martin walks on the Yankees.

A call is one thing. An actual trade is another thing entirely. As far as possibilities go, just how realistic is this one?

Admittedly, not very. It would take three to tango in this case, as Mauer has full no-trade protection and Peter Gammons of MLB.com recently passed along a report that indicates the Twins aren't interested in trading Mauer:

If the Twins aren't interested in trading Mauer to the Red Sox, who have a deep farm system and a ton of payroll space, then they probably wouldn't be very interested in trading him to the Yankees, who have less of a deep farm system and less payroll space.

Still, the notion of the Twins trading Mauer this winter (or ever) can't be completely disregarded. The Twins effectively put him up for grabs when they placed him on waivers in August, and they're in a position now where they may not be able to say no if the right offer comes along.

The Twins are at a crossroads. They've lost a total of 195 games in the last two seasons, and their prospects of getting better soon are bleak. Their roster needs a lot of work, their farm system isn't strong and their best players aren't committed for the long haul. Justin Morneau is entering the final year of his deal, and Josh Willingham and Denard Span only have two guaranteed years left on their contracts.

Mauer is signed through 2018 at $23 million per year. If the losses continue to pile up and interest in the team declines, the Twins could find themselves with a contract they can't afford on their hands while they're simultaneously trying to rebuild.

Mauer held his own at first base this year.

Mauer's trade value, meanwhile, is back up again after he hit .319 with a league-best .416 on-base percentage in 2012. Just as important, he played in a career-high 147 games thanks to the Twins' careful handling of him. He filled in at first base and as a DH just as often as he played catcher.

However—and this is important seeing as how the Yankees don't have clear openings at first base or DH—Ryan indicated to the St. Paul Pioneer Press in September that he believes Mauer will be able to catch full-time again. If true, then the Twins can sell him as full-time catcher if they do decide they need to listen to trade offers.

So if the Twins trade him now, they stand to receive an impressive package of young players while potentially saving themselves as much as $138 million.

The big question: Can the Yankees do a deal like that? Do they have the prospects to entice the Twins and the willingness to take on the bulk of Mauer's contract?

The package of prospects would certainly have to start with Gary Sanchez. He's the Yankees' top prospect according to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com and others, and he just so happens to be a catcher who projects as an elite hitter. He could one day replace Mauer.

If the Yankees tell the Twins they're willing to take on all or most of the money remaining on Mauer's contract, they wouldn't necessarily have to throw in any more top prospects. They could get away with adding a guy like Adam Warren and a reclamation project like Dellin Betances to the deal instead of guys like Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and so on.

Figuring out the prospects would be the easy part. The hard part would be how much money the Yankees would be willing to take on.

Hal's not as reckless as his old man was.

The Yankees' goal for their payroll in 2014 and beyond is no secret. Team boss and son of "The Boss" Hal Steinbrenner wants the Yankees to be under the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014, telling The New York Times this spring that, "My goals are normally considered a requirement."

The Yankees already have over $75 million in salaries on the books for 2014, most of which is tied up in Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. If they were to add Mauer's contract to their books, they'd have four players taking up nearly $100 million in payroll space.

Thus, trading for Mauer now would force the Yankees to make plans to fill out their 2014 roster on a roughly $90 million budget. It would also signal the inevitable end of Robinson Cano's career with the club, as there's no way the Yankees would give him the lucrative extension he wants after trading for Mauer.

Unless...

According to ESPN's Darren Rovell, the recent deal involving the YES Network and News Corp. could call for the Yankees to be paid $400-$500 million, and the club also stands to make more money from the extension of the TV rights.

Fellow B/R MLB Lead Writer Ian Casselberry wondered if the Yankees might use this money to toss their strict payroll plans aside. If so, they could take Mauer's contract off the Twins' hands. Doing so would likely mean having to pay the luxury tax, but it sounds like the Yankees are going to be able to do that without feeling too much financial pain.

Likely to happen?

For now, not at all. I wouldn't get your hopes up, anyway.

But plausible?

Absolutely. The Yankees will need an answer at catcher if Martin walks as a free agent, and Mauer would be an ultimate slam-dunk acquisition that the Yankees can conceivably pull off.

I wonder if the pinstripes they measured him for a few years ago would still fit...

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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