The five-time All-Star has been fantastic since the Twins selected him with the first pick of the 2001 Major League Baseball amateur draft. With a .323 career average and .873 OPS, the St. Paul, Minn. native has become the face of the franchise.
With that tag (and the hefty $23 million salary that goes with it), there's a lot of pressure on Mauer to put the team on his back like Kirby Puckett did en route to two World Series championships in 1987 and 1991.
The results so far have been mixed.
The Twins have not won a playoff series since Mauer debuted in 2004. Outside of his AL MVP season in 2009 in which he hit .365 with 28 home runs and 95 runs batted in, he has not impressed Twins fans with his production at the plate despite three batting championships.
Over the past two seasons, things seem to have gone further south for Mauer as the team has been mired near the bottom of the American League Central standings with no signs of improvement coming in the immediate future.
So why would the Twins have faith that Mauer would keep them from reliving their dark days of the 1990s?
Because the Twins will stay relevant as long as Mauer is wearing their jersey.
The first reason is because the Twins have figured out a way to keep Mauer fresh and will use that information to keep him ready for the rest of his career.
Mauer had caught (and started) 693 games over his first seven career seasons, and all that work behind the plate had taken a toll on his body. The Twins needed Mauer behind the plate but may have been shortsighted not to use him at designated hitter more, which caused a bizarre 2011 season.
Mauer missed a majority of the 2011 season with bilateral leg weakness. This caused the Twins to use Mauer at different positions. The result was a 2012 season (.319 AVG, 10 HR, 85 RBI) that was more comparable to other seasons in his career (.323 AVG, 14 HR, 89 RBI per 162 games).
With a healthy Mauer at the plate and in the field, the Twins can keep their No. 3 hitter in the lineup, which should mean more victories.
Mauer is also a star in Major League Baseball. Prior to the 2011 season, he did several commercials that may have irked Twins fans but gave the team some national exposure.
With several media outlets entrenched in the Boston and New York markets, having Mauer out in the open means good things for the Twins and helps some of his other teammates get noticed.
Finally, Mauer should blossom into a leader on the Twins as he enters the twilight of his career. Mauer has had issues with that since signing his eight-year, $184 million contract extension prior to the 2010 season, but he should become more comfortable as a new wave of Twins enters in 2013 and 2014.
In order for the Twins to avoid becoming the laughingstock of the American League, they'll need Joe Mauer to be the face of the franchise.
While Mauer may never come close to his 2009 MVP season again, he should be a leader who can lead the Twins to great things—possibly including a World Championship.
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