Joe Mauer is one of the most highly-anticipated free agents of this decade. He has won three batting titles, two gold gloves, and one MVP all before the age of 27. In his MVP season of 2009, Joe showed that he is entering into his prime.
With at least six to eight more years of highly productive baseball stored up in his six-foot, five-inch stature, Joe Mauer might be the best baseball player alive. At worst, he's second to Albert Pujols.
While there are questions surrounding his durability and his ability to continue playing catcher, most GMs are willing to take that risk. If nothing else, Joe Mauer could be the best hitter playing right field or first base.
There are two more important questions that remain concerning Joe Mauer right now: How much is he going to get paid? And can the the Minnesota Twins pay him?
My answers to those questions are simple: A lot of money and yes.
While speculation of a monster trade with (insert big market team name here) or free agent signing after the 2010 season is fun, it is not as realistic as many make it out to be. Joe Mauer is not Johan Santana. While Santana was popular in Minnesota and a great pitcher, Mauer is actually more valuable on the field and more popular. In 2009, Mauer saw his marketing appeal skyrocket; he was second only to Derek Jeter in American League All-Star votes. Joe is not merely a Minnesota secret anymore.
While many may use that fact to argue for Mauer leaving for a bigger market, I think it points him back to Minnesota. To lose Joe Mauer would absolutely devastate the Twins franchise. He has been far and away the most popular athlete in the state of Minnesota, but now, he is one of the most popular baseball players in the entire MLB.
Mauer is also much more valuable than Santana. He is like a franchise quarterback. We have never seen a more complete catcher in the history of baseball. He plays great, smart defense and he is one of the top two hitters in the game. The Twins actually moved on quite easily without Santana. They won more games in each of the 2008 and 2009 seasons than they did in Santana's final year as a Twin in 2007. The impact of losing Mauer would be significantly greater. Joe Mauer's runs above replacement is 82 and his wins above replacement is eight, according to Fangraphs. This means that Mauer produces 82 runs and eight wins more than the average player.
Santana, however, in 2008 (his last full season) was 45 runs and 5 wins above replacement. Mauer's RAR and WAR were third highest in baseball and 60% higher than the next best catcher, Victor Martinez. Add on the fact that catchers are given limited additional value for their defense when calculating these statistics; meaning it does not even take into account that Mauer has a sure glove behind the plate. This is a once-in-a-century player. The Twins cannot let this guy go, no matter the cost.
So the horse has been beat dead. Joe Mauer is at worst, the second most valuable player in baseball and the Twins need to keep him. Now, the question is, can they?
The Twins are opening a new stadium this year, a stadium that will automatically increase their revenues. In the Metrodome, the Twins saw exactly zero dollars come in from luxury suites because the Vikings owned the rights to them. The Twins also had to share concession money, amongst other things, with the Vikings.
The Dome is also a terrible place to watch baseball, leaving many people who would rather watch on an HD LCD screen at home. Attendance will certainly go up in 2010 and revenue will increase accordingly.
With increasing revenues, the opportunity to keep one of the games best and most popular players must be seized; the Twins can afford to pay Joe Mauer. My guess is the offer Joe will accept is in the neighborhood of eight years, $180 million. The Twins offered Johan Santana five years for $100 million, which he declined.
However, Mauer's agent, Ron Shapiro, has a history of keeping hometown favorites at home. He did it for Cal Ripken and he did it for Kirby Puckett. Both of those contracts were record breakers too, showing that he can get a big deal done with small market clubs like the Orioles and Twins.
The offer of eight years, $180 million makes sense for a few reasons. The highest paid player in baseball is Alex Rodriguez at 10 years, $275 million. However, the highest paid non-Yankee in baseball is Miguel Cabrera at eight years, $153 million. Finally, the highest paid catcher in baseball is Jorge Posada at four years, $52 million.
If you average out those three contracts, you get $20 million per season. Add on top of that that Joe Mauer is more valuable than all three of those players, and you get a healthy premium of an extra $2.5 million per year. The Twins are going to keep Mauer, but not at much of a discount.
From a per-year standpoint, this deal is not much richer than Santana's contract offer. While the total is almost double the Santana offer, teams can feel more secure handing a position player a long-term deal than a pitcher.
Catchers rarely need Tommy John surgery or deal with other long-term injuries in comparison to pitchers. The Twins can afford this with the new revenue coming in, much of which Mauer will be responsible for this upcoming season.
This is the Twins' chance to become a medium to large baseball market and they need to take it. Even if it costs them $180 million. I say they'll seize the opportunity without looking back, because if they don't, the franchise will be devastated.