It’s almost time to let the real “Hot Stove Season” begin in earnest.
Barring some unforeseen blunder by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Joe Mauer will be crowned the 2009 American League Most Valuable Player on Monday afternoon.
When that announcement becomes official, the clock starts.
The clock will be counting down the remaining days of Joe Mauer’s relationship with the Minnesota Twins.
By the time pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training the clock very well may have reached zero—as it did for Johan Santana two years ago—or it may have restarted to the tune of six-years and $100+ million.
Mauer’s agent, Ron Shapiro, has no doubt avoided starting any real negotiations regarding an extension with Minnesota until after the MVP announcement, and for good reason.
It’s one thing to ask for $100+ million for a three-time batting champion and it’s a whole different business to ask for $100+ million for a three-time batting champion and reigning AL MVP.
If Shapiro had started negotiations before the announcement, he’d have been going into a gunfight with an empty chamber.
After Monday’s announcement, he’ll come out fully-loaded and guns a'blazing.
It should be noted, however, that Shapiro was the agent for both Cal Ripken and Kirby Puckett, both of whom were able to work out deals to stay with their original clubs.
Shapiro is the antithesis of Scott Boras, in the sense that although he’s looking for a big payday for his client, he’s not looking to loot and plunder the organization in the process.
Mauer, 27, is due $12.5 million next season and, despite saying he is unconcerned with being the highest-paid player in the game, he is due a hefty raise going forward.
In fact, to say he is due a “hefty raise” may be underscoring his overall value.
Mauer is just entering his prime, plays a premium position, and is undoubtedly one of the game’s best pure hitters.
In just five full seasons in the big leagues, Mauer has been voted to three All-Star teams, won three batting titles, three Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, and should win his first AL MVP Monday afternoon.
It would be pure naiveté to assume that Mauer isn’t at least thinking about the big money he could make if he played in Los Angeles, New York, or Boston.
Despite historically being one of baseball's stingiest franchises, Minnesota figures to make an honest attempt to extend Mauer’s contract beyond 2010 and well into the next decade.
No one in the front-office has so much as batted an eyelash at rumblings of the first $100+ million contract in franchise history.
That fact notwithstanding, there is still a chance that, much like with Santana, the extension talks could crumble.
If that is the case, one has to wonder what Mauer’s trade value would be.
Obviously, Mauer would command far more than the package general manager Bill Smith received for Santana two years ago.
Any team dealing with the Twins may be reluctant to give up front-line talent, given that acquiring Mauer will also include a substantial monetary investment, but the fact of the matter remains the same as it was with Santana: it’s now or never.
You pony up the prospects and trade for him, or you’ll never get your hands on him.
The mindset among those fans was that their clubs could just buy Santana and, in turn, keep their prospects too the following offseason. Santana, however, never hit free agency.
The Mets stepped in with an offer that was considerably less desirable than any the Yankees or Red Sox had reportedly offered, but it was the only offer left and the Twins took it.
Take heed now delusional fans of big market ballclubs, Joe Mauer will not hit free agency after next season.
His contract situation has an endgame with one of two possibilities.
A) The Twins will re-sign the hometown boy to the largest contract in franchise history and the fairy tale will come to a happy ending. Fans along the upper east coast will cry.
B) The Twins will trade Mauer to one of baseball’s big market clubs in exchange for a slew of top prospects and the big market club will promptly sign him to one of baseball’s richest contracts. Everyone in Minnesota will cry.
With those two options in mind, it’s time to take a look at the potential suitors that could arise for Mauer’s services if contract negotiations with the Twins fall through.