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Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer Signing Risky, but Needed To Be Done

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Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer Signing Risky, but Needed To Be Done
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Originally published at the Green Valley News.

The state of Minnesota let out a long, collective sigh of relief late Sunday afternoon when it was announced that the Twins had agreed to an eight-year, $184 million deal with superstar catcher Joe Mauer.

As one of the biggest Twins fans you’ll ever find, I was ecstatic when I first heard the news. Mauer’s contract wasn’t due to end until after 2010, but an entire season filled with drama and drooling Yankee/Red Sox fans would be skipped.

You can’t have him, Mr. Large Market Team; Joe Mauer is ours.

From Minnesota’s perspective, this move absolutely needed to happen. Mauer was asking for a lot of money, and it came down to a choice between biting the bullet and giving in, or taking two draft picks when Mauer walked as a free agent and hoping the fanbase wouldn’t burn Target Field to the ground.

After the moment of jubilance passed, I realized that my team had just handed out the fourth-largest contract in baseball history.

$184 million is a lot of money—especially to the small-market Twins. There is always an inherent risk when locking up 26-year-old catchers to long-term deals as Mauer could very easily injure his knees, re-aggravate his back, or simply forget how to hit.

With a massive contract and a full no-trade clause, the Twins will be shelling out $23 million every year to Mauer.

Of course, a full no-trade clause is essentially meaningless in contracts like these. If Mauer were ever in a position to be traded—either because of an injury or ineffectiveness—no team would willingly take on his contract.

Besides, Mauer would have become a 10-5 player (10 years on an active roster with the last five years on one team) three years from now and be automatically given a full no-trade clause.

The Twins currently have a $96 million player payroll for the 2010 season, a franchise high. If that stays the same in 2011, Mauer and Justin Morneau will combine for 39 percent of the payroll, leaving just $59 million to allocate among the other 23 roster spots.

Minnesota has quite a bit of money coming off the books after this and next season, but will have quite a few holes that will need to be filled. The budget will certainly be tight with both Mauer and Morneau on the payroll, but the Twins will undoubtedly find a way to compete year in and year out.

Early reports indicate that Mauer will receive a flat sum of $23 million annually, as opposed to a back-loaded contract. This is great news to the Twins, as the $23 million Mauer will make in 2018 will seem less expensive than the $23 million he makes in 2011.

Back-loaded contracts are often preferred by players but can have disastrous effects on a team (see: Wells, Vernon; and Blue Jays, Toronto). Mauer certainly gave a hometown discount to the Twins, despite the very high $23 million per year he will be given. Perhaps the absence of a back-loaded contract or deferred money was enough of a discount for the Twins.

Mauer was worth his weight in gold last season, but how valuable will he be later in this contract? A lot of his worth is tied to his current defensive position.

Mauer is the best overall player in the American League because he is a catcher. He has expressed a very strong desire to remain behind the plate for as long as his knees allow him.

If he moved from behind the plate to first base or a corner outfield position, Mauer will be unable to fully earn his $23 million annual paycheck because his defensive value will take a tumble.

Despite the cries that this signing “is good for baseball,” the excuses won’t stop rolling off the tongues of small-market teams.

The Pirates and Marlins of the baseball world may feel added pressure to keep their homegrown stars, but their owners will continue to pocket their revenue sharing checks while railing against the Yankees and Red Sox.

When you consider that New York first baseman Mark Teixeira received an eight-year, $180 million deal last year, this Mauer signing certainly wasn’t outrageous. Twins fans may not be able to expect expensive offseasons like this most recent one, but keeping a hometown boy with the team he grew up with is certainly a cause for celebration.

Besides, if anyone is worth $23 million a year, it’s Joe Mauer.

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