The Joe Mauer contract saga appears to be headed to a conclusion.
Now that the Star Tribune's Joe Christensen publicly broke the news of the Twins on-again, off-again negotiations with Minnesota's mega-superstar, I can attest, without letting down my source (one that is not Christensen), that the deal was indeed intended to go down last Friday but the final parameters were still being hammered out.
WCCO-TV sources appear to have confirmed what I also heard to be a ten-year deal , although no one knows yet what the final dollar amount will be. However, as the Tribune reiterated and is only fair, it's still in the speculative stages and nothing is final or imminent.
I was told it was in the legal stages as of Sunday, dotting the I's and crossing the T's—that kind of stuff. And Christensen simply backs that up , rather, by him posting it first, I'm merely echoing what he said black on white.
I was told a few weeks ago to expect something around the opening of TwinsFest, which by tradition is when the franchise usually signs their big names to extensions. For recent examples, see the 2008 signings of Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer around this time.
I am in no way trying to usurp any of the credit that belongs solely to the legwork and dedication of professionals like Christensen, WCCO, and anyone else who may have done their part in breaking the story. This is why with the news now being public knowledge, I feel I can finally write this piece comfortably knowing that these rumors now apparently have some legs on which to stand. Otherwise, it's just hearsay with no proof but third-party gossip.
With that out of the way, the point of this article is to explain the social and economic ramifications such a signing will have on the sport of baseball, the state of Minnesota, and the Twins in general.
How it affects the Twins
First off, the easy part.
As a Twins fan, this move, however long the length ends up to be, will justify building the brand new, state-of-the-art, $512 million stadium that still divides many fans and residents alike.
Minnesota is very anti-tax if you can't tell. Education and health care, that kind of crap first. Another Washington state, basically.
The fact that they are just now building a new outdoor stadium for the Twins and just opened up an outdoor, on-campus football stadium for the Gophers of the NCAA, a perennial cellar- dweller of the Big Ten, when schools like Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State have been this way for over fifty years, shows just how far behind they really are and are only now catching up. Or is it "catching on"? I forget.
Is it any wonder that the state is still bickering with whether or not to make the obvious decision and build Minnesota's most successful and competitive team year-in-and-year-out, the Minnesota Vikings, a similar stadium?
It's the Minnesota Way.
As someone who never thought I'd live to see the day they approved such a stadium and had them pegged for contraction or more likely relocation, it was a good day.
I have similar feelings about a Vikings stadium ever being built, but after the plucky Twins got theirs, why wouldn't the Vikings get theirs?
As usual, it will probably be some cost-ineffective, eleventh-hour deal we all have to unnecessarily sweat out thanks to the non-jocks in the legislature that could honestly care less.
If you remember, I'm also one that had Mauer off for New York or Boston and it was just a matter of how soon he'd pick up either god-awful accent and how quickly their leech fans would learn to call him "Mawa" or "Joe-Ma-wa".
Thank goodness it appears we'll never have to know what that's like.
It's times like this I am proud to be a fan of a small market club. Building from the ground up, retaining stars, and filling in the gaps (not buying all the best talent in a single offseason: SOBathia, Traitor Tex, and Burnett) with pieces is the way to do it.
You just wouldn't understand because you never had to go through this. The joy it brings people, the base, the organization, the scouts, and the management that made it all happen. The way it unites us against you.
Such a signing will entrust in the fanbase that the front office is serious about building and keeping a winner for the long term.
We can write dozens of articles about the pending firestorm from the base had they let their hometown boy walk away for nothing, especially after building a new stadium on taxpayer dime—something I have no problem with by the way, I'm that much of a fan. Some of you naysayers just need to get over it—but that's all been done and dead obvious in any event.
This is why you build a stadium, to remain competitive and keep players. That's what fans are told and the Twins apparently will deliver.
Good for them.
How it affects Baseball
I have friends who are Yankees fans, have read messages on forums from Yankees fans, heard Yankee lapdogs like ESPN's Buster Olney and Red Sox lackey Peter Gammons, and listened to ESPN's Tim Kirkjian (whose loyalty he doesn't appear to reveal—at least not as easily), and all agree that the best place for Mauer, in some cases, the only place for Mauer is and always was, Minnesota.
It's a perfect match. One that you don't see that often. One that you don't see enough in sports.
Again, we can write all day long about how the St. Paul-born Mauer grew up just eight miles from the Metrodome cheering for his hometown team that drafted him and how an extension only seemed logical but it's all been done before.
On top of that, this is the same franchise that has a few Minnesotans on its roster—Pat Neshek and Glen Perkins to name two—but none of course stack up to the allure and talent of Mauer, Mr. Everyman.
This is also a franchise that has seen its fair share of Minnesotans play for the hometown team in the past. Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor, as well as Terry Stienbach and Kent Hrbek all, with the exception of Hrbek, had the privilege and distinction of starting out right away with the hometown club, one they grew up watching.
Again, in the end, none will match up to Mauer.
Mauer is a 26-year-old three-time batting champion and one-time MVP, who's only going to get better and better. The only thing more fitting would be if he scored the winning run of the World Series after being hit home by homeboy Morneau, his best friend and partner-in-crime on the team.
Why else is it good for baseball? Because before the stadium, Minnesota was rightly categorized as a small-market team, yet the team continued to win with five American League Central Division titles in the past eight years.
Minnesota's only flaw was, as popular thought said, "If only they could keep their talent."
That appears to be an afterthought sooner rather than later.
While this is the same team that lost fan favorite and All-Star centerfielder Torii Hunter in 2007 to free agency and former ace/crybaby Johan Santana the next season via a trade that hasn't worked out, it should be noted this is also the same team that found a way to keep the following players:
2001 : Joe Mays, 4 years, $21 million
2002 : Torii Hunter, 5 years, $44 million (with option picked up)
2003: Re-signed mid-season acquisition Shannon Stewart, 3 years, $18 million
2008 : Michael Cuddyer, 4 years, $34.5 million (with one-year option already picked up for 2011)
Justin Morneau, 6 years, $80 million
Closer Joe Nathan, 4 years, $47 million
2009 : Scott Baker, 4 years, $15.5 million (what a steal, by the way)
Jason Kubel, 2 years, $7 million (with option year)
2010 : Mauer?
Does this look like the ledger of a "small market" team?
As I've always told my friends, "Hey, it could be worse, we could always be Pirates or A's fans. They don't keep any of their players (save for Eric Chavez of the A's in the one deal they did make that didn't work out)."
People will argue that the stadium only allowed them to keep Mauer and for many, that will be worth it. Not entirely true.
Not only did it give them a fighting chance to keep him that they otherwise would have had no shot of, but it also did the following:
Allowed them to keep the core of Nathan, Morneau, Baker, Kubel, and Cuddyer by giving them all substantial raises and extensions from their current deals, and it also allowed them to trade for the more expensive upgrade in J.J. Hardy who, by settling for $5.1 million outside of arbitration, still makes considerably more than Carlos Gomez, for whom he was traded.
Additionally, it allowed them to add a much-needed veteran in Jim Thome for $1.5 million as a bench player.
$1.5 million for a bench player on the Twins! Never thought I'd see it, but it's a welcome surprise.
So what does it all mean?
At $91.4 million (so far) the 2010 Twins payroll has increased some $26.4 million from last year's $65 million opening-day bill. With over 100 free agents still out there and rosters far from finalized, for the sake of comparison, by 2009 payrolls , this would place the formerly-frugal Twins 13th out of 30 teams, just above the National League Central champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Talk about uncharted territory.
Just last year (and seemingly every year) the Twins were 24th, or roughly in the Baltimore Orioles' neighborhood. My how times have changed.
Twins fans, have you met the Jeffersons? 'Cause we're movin' on up!
As a Twins fan, I'll take it.
"If they ever find a way to keep it all together, look out!"
That's what had to be most of baseball's worst fear. Well, that may be happening.
Another thing I've always said to my friends is not only have we been spoiled as fans by annual overachieving despite our budget, but had we been able to keep both Santana and Hunter, fans across the sport would be including the Twins in their perpetual anti-Yankee$ and $ox tirades.
I would have been expecting something along the lines of:
"Baseball needs a salary cap! How are we supposed to compete with teams like the Yankees, Boston, or ------ Twins?! I mean, they've got three of the four playoff spots wrapped up in the whole American League before a single pitch is thrown. Its not fair!"
That may be coming closer to reality.
How it affects Minnesota
In addition to the consumer confidence and long-term viability, Minnesota's success will be measured on what they do once they get to October. Like their more aggressive metropolitan cousins, the Vikings of the NFL, we as Twins fans already did expect to make it to October via the American League Central Division title, with or without a Mauer extension.
For a state that just had their hearts broken yet again via the resurgent icon Brett Favre and the Vikings, they need this.
This deal will only add more pressure but also hopefully a greater and more legitimate annual commitment from the team to win not just division titles but to put a real team on the field that can actually challenge the final two remaining thorns—those Yankees and Red Sox, both of whom have had the Twins number as of late (The Yankees have won 26 of their last 29 games against the Twins, not including playoffs)
Should the team overcome that, the sky truly is the limit.
I believe the Twins added the always popular—and career Twins-killer—Thome for his veteran leadership and invaluable playoff experience, not to mention clutch performances and overall depth. His time will come in October.
For now, it's all about ensuring they continue to make it to October for the next several seasons. Mauer's deal is the start of that.
Whatever deal he takes, I'm hoping for a "shocker" of $175-180 million, if only so the Twins can still afford to build the necessary pieces year-in and year-out around him. The Twins owe it to him and their fans to put a legitimate championship-caliber team on the field over the course of that contract.
The more he takes, the lesser talent Mauer will be able to play with, and win with, and he knows it. But at the same time, the Twins organization cannot let him down.
There is just something special about Mauer who apparently never wanted to test the market. There is just something admirable about a local boy who likely never was lured by the appeal of being a "Roid" Sox or Yankee.
He's just that type of guy. One that I hope future free agents learn to recognize and want to come play with. It appears the Twins got lucky, a once-in-a-generation player who could have cared less about the bright lights and endorsement opportunities of the big city.
Somewhere, arrogant Yankee fans are crying. (I say 'arrogant' because as I've conceded there are many good on's out there that realize that Mauer and the Twins just feels right).
This is the same base that took it for granted that come 2006, Santana would be theirs when he was originally scheduled to hit free agency.
Somewhere, Mets and Red Sox fans are weeping, although you have to wonder how seriously they ever thought he was ever going to leave the only team he ever really knew, anyway.
For a small-market team, you had to figure a few weeks ago, as I did, why the team that had recently lost Santana and Hunter, the latter for nothing, would dare risk losing their hometown star without a single sense of urgency or a public threat to have to trade him.
Mauer tipped his hand recently saying to ESPN :
"I feel like a broken record," he said. "People, they want to know what's going on and try to find out things when they can, but I keep saying -- I'm sounding like a broken record right now -- it'll all happen when it needs to happen and you've just got to try to let it all happen. That's what we're doing."
This is a kid that seems to have never wanted to leave in the first place.
Manager Ron Gardenhire knew.
Morneau also knew, saying to the reporters interviewing Mauer as he walked by: "14-year extension, 20 a year!"
That's why they didn't panic.
Now we know.
Now it all makes sense.
That was the plan all along.
They knew it.
Joe knew it.
Soon, we'll all know it.
And baseball will be better off for it.
Note: If and when it is indeed over, thank you Joe Mauer. Thank you Jim Pohlad, Jerry Bell, Dave St. Peter, and Bill Smith and the rest of the Minnesota Twins among others too numerous to name.
Statistics and information coutesy of Minneapolis Star Tribune, namely Joe Christensen, WCCO-TV, WCCO-TV.com, ESPN.com, CBSSportsline.com, Twinshomeplate.com, Twinkietown.com, and baseball-reference.com.
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