In case you haven't noticed, Joe Mauer homered in his third consecutive game last night giving him twenty-five on the year. All this coming from a guy whose career high was thirteen prior to this season.
Mauer, a Minnesota native, was ready to go down in history as a pure singles and doubles hitter, Minnesota strategy at its finest, as their version of Tony Gwynn. Then suddenly, after his May 1 return to the team following off-season surgery, newfound power emerged as Mauer ended the month with eleven home runs and 32 RBI.
Something seemed fishy, at least to me.
Now this is not a steroids witch-hunt column. Chances are he simply got his power from post-surgery rehabilitation regimine and hard work ethic. However, it should also be considered that some of the recovery drugs we always hear athletes take in order to "get back quicker to their team that needs them" needed more time to wear off.
Drugs in baseball at the present time is a dirty word, so let me use that word only from a medical stand point. There are many good, legit drugs that help people in general recover and this is what I am arguing in this column, that it took time for them to wear off. This is basically a "Damn it, why now?" Column. Why not until after he's re-signed like in the first or second year of a ten year contract? Then we can enjoy the numbers without looking over our shouder like I have chosen to do.
If Rob Parker and Skip Bayless can discuss the possibility of Albert Pujols potentially being on something on ESPN First Take simply stating that they hoped he was clean because the game basically needs a good guy leader when it comes to this with the shadow of doubt everywhere then I should be able to say the same about Mauer.
As a Twins fan and a Mauer fan, why would I be accusing him of anything? I'm not. I'm simply echoing that as a fan of the team he plays for, I too hope he's clean since he's their Pujols but its kind of a guilty until proven innocent climate.
Without this turning into a "first they lost Hunter, then Santana, and now Mauer" column, Mauer picked a pretty bad time for him to have a career year, and for him that says a lot based on his gaudy statistics that keep getting better. The only thing worse was if Mauer did this in a contract year (next year). He'd likely be looking at something in the neighborhood of $27-30M a year-A-Rod money.
Every home run that Mauer, hits, how much does his price go up? A million a season? Soon they'll be able to market Mauer as a legit 30 HR threat, maybe 40 they pace he's going, even though he'll only have done it once. People claim that he's able to do this due to early season rest after missing all of April. We'll next season when he deosn't have the liberty of rest, I expect his numbers to go back to normal as people ask--what happened? The answer will be, this was simply a career year, even for him, power wise. A flash in the pan and the rest really helped.
But the damage is already done. After this season, Mauer and his agent will be able to argue successfully based on recent evidence that in addition to being an All-World catcher, 2 time AL batting champ (soon to be three), three time All-Star and one time starter, home run derby participant, they can now boast home run hitter? Thats only going to make him all the more appealing, and expensive for the competition salavating to sign him.
Can you imagine if Mauer hits .400 this season? Something that hasn't been done since 1941? That's only going to drive his price up even more as the Elias Sports Bureau crazed people, Fantasy sports fans, and baseball historians will only continue to inflate his value by touting this rare accomplishment.
The Twins might as well right off any chance they might have had to sign him if it ever gets to that point. ESPN would be so gaga over him that he might as well shave those sideburns since the Yankees brass don't allow facial hair while playing for them.
Now imagine mixed in all this, that Mauer additionally wins MVP as a result. Just another fact that his agent, Ron Shapiro, will be able to argue on Mauer's behalf. Like A-Rod did for Texas in 2000, Mauer may be winning MVP for a non-playoff team which is rare in any sport.
The Twins already messed up twice with Torii Hunter and Johan Santana. In 2007 the Twins picked up Hunter's $12 million option on the back end of what was a 5 year $42 million dollar deal. At the time of the option, I thought Hunter getting that kind of money was crazy and he wasn't worth it. Now it looks like a bargain, especially considering the Angels gave the then-32 year old a 5 year $90 million dollar deal that he'll never justify no matter how many Gold Gloves he wins or years he hits .300.
Knowing what he know now, the Twins would have been wise to lock Hunter up before it ever got to that point. Twelve million may have been hard to swallow but they had one offseason to re-sign him to maybe a $13-14 a year 4-5 year deal and they didn't do it so they lost him for nothing. Now I'm no Hunter homer but again, knowing what we know now, would you rather have him or Carlos Gomez? I love the kid's potential and speed even if he does hit .230 but Hunter, even at $14 million would have made more sense.
I'm not going to write nearly as much about Santana since I knew there was no chance he was going to stay in Minnesota and so did most of the media and fans. Santana is a big city guy. He's the reason big market teams bid on players. If not him, then who? He just screams big market so him in New York just makes and made sense. Despite his threat "the sooner you sign me, the cheaper it will be," the Twins smartly balked at this.
Not only is he a pitcher where one slider can end a career, but we just saw the Barry Zito 7 year $126 million dollar distaster so that wasn't going to happen and Santana knew it. It was simply a face-saving gesture on his part to appease an angry fan base that quickly moved on since they knew he was never going to stay.
The lone criticism from fans was when first year GM Bill Smith overplayed his hand in trying to create a Yankees-Red Sox bidding war that never materialized and thus, he had to accept the lesser Mets offer just to get Santana to the National League where he was less of a threat.
Everyone knows the Yankees and Red Sox have a date around Nov. 15, 2010 circled on their calanders when Mauer will become a free agent if he's not (laugh) signed to an extension (pause for laughter) by the....stop I can't do this.....Twins...(slaps knee)...breathe....first." there I wrote it. *whew* that was a good one!
Not coincidently, the two team's starting catchers, Jorge Posada and Jason Varitek will be 39 and 38 respectively. This is almost too perfect for money loving Major League baseball. As if we aren't already bombarded with enough Yankee$-Red $ox crap enough, just imagine if they get Boy Wonder! Now they'll really hype the hell out of him since he's one of their own.
So what will it take to keep him? Prior to this season I was hoping something along the lines of 8 years and $160 million for a $20 million average. But with Traitor Tex [Mark Teixeira] of the New York Yankee$ making his own MVP bid with .283 BA 31 HR, 38 RBI, .381 OBP, compared to Mauer's .380 BA, 25 HR, 77 RBI, .448 OBP while making $20,625,000, agents wil argue Mauer is certainly worth more based on his numbers, importance to the team (postion he plays), and age 25 to 29 for Teixera and chances are they will be right.
Only this time, the Yankee$ will not only be indirectly screwing over a small market team again, thereby only increasing their hatred but they'll be hitting a team like the Twins with a double whammy since Teixeria's contract not only set the bar for Mauer, but also, ultimately probably stole Mauer from them!
So now what can we hope for? 8 years, $200 million? If Traitor Tex is "worth" 8 years and $180M, certainly Mauer is worth more, right? Does 10 years and $250 million sound about right, or familiar for that matter? What about $300M over ten years. That's "only" $30 million a year or three million less than what A-Rod is making.
If A-Rod makes 33 million, (no this is not an SAT question), does Mauer go on to make $35M based on his potential, age, and array of past accomplishments? Don't bet against it, especially if the Evil Empire or the "Junior Yankees" AKA the Bo$ton Red $ox are involved-they learned from the best.
So 10 years and $350 million?
What should the Twins do with Mauer?
When Mauer signed his current 4 year $33M deal prior to the 2007 season, I immediately knew it was too low and much too short. The 23 year old would be just 27 at the end of this contract. Immediately I wished it was double the price and length 8 years and $66M would be looking pretty good right now-and at "just" over $8M per on average (remember its a backloaded contract) he'd be considered a steal just as he is now at $10.5M this year and $12M next.
This is why the next contract Mauer signs likely will be his last and because of this, the Twins if they are serious, can't afford, literally to mess around with another short 5-6 year offer like I fear. That would still only make him 33 at the end of his second deal, thus eligible for yet another huge payday, the one that likely would send him to one of the coasts.
Sure Mauer could get hurt three weeks after signing it, but the Twins can't afford not to do it. On a team that has trotted out Matt Walbeck, Danny Audoin, Terry Stienbach (post youth), Matt LeCroy, Chad Moeller, Javier Valentin, Greg Myers and Damien Miller to represent just a sample of the horrid instability pre-Mauer, they have to do it from a consistency standpoint, stats aside just to break up the past.
Secondly, when you just build a 40,000 $512 million stadium that isn't even open yet but will debut in 2010, you can't afford to lose any free agent regardless of who it is, especially if its one that literally grew up in your backyard. The fans would (rightly) riot. "What did we build it for if you can't keep your players?" and "If not for Mauer, then WHO?" will be the rallying cry as the fan base shrivles next to nothing.
I'm just glad I don't have to go before the fans and explain how I let this one get away as the Twins will likely have to do. Heads are gonna roll I'd assume as season ticket holders demand answers while others abandon the team and sport forever.
With that said, what should the Twins do with Mauer? Well, aside from signing him the day before yesterday, (read: its too late) they'd be best to trade him this offseason for basically whoever they want in order to try and save as much face as they can. Since they can basically name their own price I'd start with the following packages and this time, not skip the Red Sox.
Red Sox: Youkalis (someone to replace Mauer's bat), Buchholtz (how he lasted this long, I don't know), Lowrie (shortstop fills a need, cheap, arbitration controlled=Twins buzz words, Daniel Bard (to help inject youth into bullpen that needs three new arms), Jon Lester (help strengthen the rotation, and Victor Martinez who would no longer be needed in Boston.
Obviously Martinez, Lester, and Youkalis are starters on the team and the obvious stars. If you want to cripple a team like trades intend, you want to take their heart and soul like Skip Bayless suggested the Blue Jays do if they were to trade Roy Halladay to the Sox.
If you are thinking Youkalis, Lester, Martinez, Bard, Buchholtz, and Lowrie are too steep of a price to pay consider the Oakland AAA's (as I call them) got six top prospects from the Arizona Diamondbacks for little old Dan Haren. Now three of the above are no prospects but then again, neither is a talent like Mauer who hasn't even peaked.
Basically I'm hoping the Red Sox say "You can take ANY three players off our roster if we can have Mauer" I'd settle for a combination of any of the following: Lester, Ellsbury, Youkalis, Martinez, Pedroia. Even two mixed with Buchholtz, and Bard would be hard to resist since the Twins would know then they'd be at a point of no return.
Even if they say "You can't have BOTH Ellsbury AND Lester but you can have one" like they did for Santana given the chance again I'd do it and I'd take either as you can't lose but I'd also take Lowrie and Buchholtz this time and try hard to include a player like Pedoria and Martinez in the deal. Basically if given the package for Santana again, I'd take it, with a few additions based on what we know now-Pedroria, Buchholtz.
Yankees: Any trade on the Twins end has to start with Joba Chamberlain who would fit in perfectly in either the pen or starter but I've always "liked" him as a reliever. I'd also demand Cano just for the right to listen to stay on the line with me. Since Phillip Hughes is obviously their rock as a bridge to Rivera, I'd have to have that too as my own bridge in Minnesota thefore effectively directly crippling the Yankees.
Finally in addition to top prospect Austin Jackson an OF I don't even need in the Twins already crowded outfield, I'd want Francisco Cervelli since someone has to catch in Minnesota and I'd probably even take a flyer on Chien Ming Wang whose value will never be lower and whom the Yankees would now probably gladly throw him in.
I don't think a youthful package of Cano, Chamberlain, Hughes, Cervelli, Wang, and Jackson would be too bad. It cripples the Yankees newfound formula of Hughes in relief and also hurts their improving youth movement that is clearly working for them reminecent of the '90's which we all know what happened. Finally, Cano and Cervelli fill immediate needs, help add much needed depth and I'm personally intrigued by a Wang reclaimation project seeing how he's 29.
The oldest player in this package would be Wang meaning the Yankees immediate depth, farm system, and youth movement all take hits setting them back when clearly they've been making gains like the old days and we just can't have that.
In the end, Mauer will be the Twins Teixeira. We all know how he BS'ed about "growing up an Orioles fan" while somehow rooting for rival Don Mattingly. Well, I don't hear Mauer chatting up Carlton Fisk or Yogi Berra but after Traitor Tex's move anything is possible especially when the Yankee$ and Red $ox have something at stake.
Enjoy him while you can Twins fans. I feel bad but this is the joke that is Major League Baseball. About to claim another market. If only they emulated the NFL......