In just a few short months, the New York Yankees will say goodbye to franchise icon Mariano Rivera, one of their greatest players—baseball's greatest players—and one of the game's all-time best ambassadors. Not too long from now, or maybe sooner than we think, both Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter will also hang up the spikes.
That will leave the Yankees with CC Sabathia as their clubhouse head but few other leaders both on and off the field. Right now, the Yankees have a golden opportunity, whether they realize it or not. In the home dugout, just across Target Field these next few days, is a player who can step in with future Hall of Fame credentials.
That player is Joe Mauer.
Amazingly, Mauer has flown under the radar these last couple of years in the upper Midwest. The stud catcher, an absolute can't-miss former No. 1 overall draft pick from St. Paul, Minnesota, seems relatively unappreciated on the national baseball landscape.
The question is: How?
Johnny Bench is regarded by many as the greatest catcher to ever live. In Bench's first 10 major league seasons, he accumulated a total of 54.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Through Mauer's first 10 seasons, his WAR total is 42.6. And counting.
He's still a moderate distance behind Bench due to his lack of home-run power, but it's certainly one of the most respectable starts to a career for any catcher in major league history. Mauer led all major league catchers in WAR every year from 2006-2010 with the exception of 2007. He finished second in 2007.
Last season, among all catchers with a minimum of 375 at bats, Mauer finished third in the majors in WAR. Tops in the American League at 4.1. All right, enough statistics, you say! The point is, Joe Mauer's the real deal.
The Yankees have huge pockets and should make a move for this star, who's still only 30 years old. The Yankees could cover the rest of Mauer's pricey $23 million salary for this year and part of next alone, based on the money they're saving by recouping insurance payments for Mark Teixeira's lost season.
It's still a high cost, make no mistake about it, but how many chances do you really get to acquire a future Hall of Famer who's still in the prime of his career? The Yankees would also need to part ways with some current players and prospects, but due to Mauer's high salary, the player cost likely would not be prohibitive.
The Yankees' holes at catcher are glaring. Chris Stewart has done an admirable job at catcher this season given the circumstances. But Austin Romine simply isn't a major leaguer right now.
JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez loom in the minors, but they're still far from sure things. Very few minor leaguers are, to be fair. Mauer is not exclusively a catcher at this stage of his career, but he still plays the lion's share of his games behind the plate.
Moving forward, it's reasonable to believe that Mauer would still play the majority of his games donning the tools of ignorance, while still getting time at first base, designated hitter and, worst case scenario, even at one of the corner outfield positions.
There may be bigger needs for this Yankees team right now, both at third base and in the outfield, though catcher is undeniably a position where the Yankees need more production.
Derek Jeter may come back in the next 30 days, and Curtis Granderson as well.
Francisco Cervelli should return as well, but it seems more than anything that, given his track record, he likely overachieved in the first month of the season. With Mauer, there wouldn't be any worry about lack of production or fear of the bright lights.
This is a playoff-tested veteran who knows all about Yankee Stadium in October, having been defeated, along with his Twins teammates, by the Bombers both in 2009 and 2010.
In some respects, if Mauer did leave his hometown of St. Paul (and hometown team of 10 years), you could understand how it would feel for the fine folks of the North Star state. The big, bad Yankees coming in to steal another small-market team's pride and joy.
Well, yes, actually, yes I can see precisely how it would feel that way.
But the Twins are still a ways from contending and getting a playoff team back on the field. The team and perhaps even the fans could sympathize with Mauer's desire to become a champion in New York, if he expressed the desire, whether this year or in future seasons.
Mauer is a player who, with the media spotlight and attention afforded New York baseball players, would be held in a regard where very few Yankees of all time are held. Perhaps he'd even remind some fans of the incredible grace and class that Mariano Rivera has shown us all for nearly 20 years.
The Yankees superstars are soon riding off into the sunset. It's time to consider bringing another one, in the prime of his career, on board to help carry the torch for the rest of the decade. Mauer in pinstripes is a perfect match.
It's time for the Yankees to make this a reality.