The Twins Need Another Catcher

Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IMay 24, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 17:  Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the New York Yankees on May 17, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Twins 3-2 in ten innings.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The title of this post is intended to be provocative, but it’s absolutely true. 
The Twins can absolutely not afford to play Joe Mauer at catcher any more than is absolutely necessary.  He’s just too good a hitter to have his career destroyed by playing catcher regularly.  The Twins have to find another place for him to play, even if it means he DHs 100-plus games a season.

Today, Mauer tied his HR total of last season in fewer than 80 ABs.  No one should be surprised.  Power is a skill that increases with experience, and Mauer is 6′5″, 225 pounds, so you know he’s got the strength to hit the long ball. 

Mauer’s numbers, with two AL batting titles through age 25, suggest that he is a Pete Rose-type hitter: a strong man who chooses to hit for average rather than power. 

When a player is as big and strong and talented as Joe Mauer, it doesn’t take a whole lot for that player to develop from Pete Rose to Stan Musial.  The Twins simply can’t afford to take a bat like that and kill the goose that lays the golden egg by destroying his body at baseball’s most physically stressful position.

You look at the great hitting catchers in baseball history: Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnet, Mickey Cochrane, Ernie Lombardi, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Pudge Rodriguez, etc. There’s a reason why no catcher has ever hit like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle, etc. 

It isn’t because no really good hitters ever decided to be catchers (see Josh Gibson, for example).  Instead, it’s that over time the position just takes too much out of a player’s body.  Aside from the constant squatting, catchers are constantly taking pitches and foul balls off their bodies, particularly their hands, arms and wrists, the latter two of which have never been covered with padding. 

Over the seasons, it takes its toll.

Long-time Twins should know exactly what I’m taking about.  In the late 1970s, the Twins had an amazing young catcher named Butch Wynegar.  He was so good, that in his first five seasons in the majors he played 698 games at catcher before he was 25 years old  

It was too much, and his body broke down, much like an overworked young pitcher.  He only played 1,298 games at catcher in his entire career and had only one season after those first five where he was able to play even 100 games at the position.

The thing is, Wynegar was a much smaller man than Mauer.  Wynegar was 6′0″, 195 pounds (a good size for a starting catcher).  Mauer’s career has already been plagued by injuries, and he’s only 26 this year.  It’s only going to get worse.

Mauer is a home town boy, born and raised in St. Paul, MN.  If any team could ever get a hometown discount on a player, it’s the Twins with Mauer. 

The Twins backup catcher is Mike Redmond, and he’s at the end of the line.  He’s 38 years old, and his OPS since 2006 are .778, .699, .655, and .616 so far this year.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that this should be his last year on a major league roster.

There is some indication that the Twins know at some level that they need to play Mauer less at catcher.  He’s played 15 of his 21 games there so far this year.  The problem is that he is a good catcher, so the temptation to play him there is great. 

Right now, the Twins have several prospects who might be able to come in at some time in the future and help with this situation.  The Twins have a catcher at AAA Rochester with the great baseball name Jose Morales.  He’s played well at Rochester since 2007, but injuries and Mike Redmond’s popularity in the Twin Cities has kept him from staying on a major league roster permanently. 

At AA New Britain, the Twins have a catcher named Wilson Ramos, who had a fine year in the A+ Florida State League last year at age 20.  The Twins also have a catcher with the name Allan Murray San Miguel from Bentley, Australia.  He’s only 21 and I suspect he has great tools, but he needs a lot more work before he will be a major league catcher.

In the long term, I think that Ramos might be the player the Twins need, but in the short term, the Twins should recall Morales and carry three catchers on their roster, so Mauer can spend more time at DH.