Joe Mauer on DL: Can the Minnesota Twins Continue To Keep Up in the AL Central?

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent IApril 15, 2011

Joe Mauer on DL: Can the Minnesota Twins Continue To Keep Up in the AL Central?

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    The Minnesota Twins announced on Thursday that franchise player and All-Star catcher Joe Mauer has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with what was described as bilateral leg weakness.

    According to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, Mauer was suffering soreness throughout his body as a result of overcompensating, due to the knee surgery that Mauer underwent during the offseason.

    Speaking with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Gardenhire said the issue "is causing all kind of soreness in his hips, and he's compensating because of the [left knee] surgery he had this winter and he's starting to get sore in other places. So we are just going to shut him down.

    He is definitely very, very sore over the last few days—his shoulder, his elbow—and we think it's his legs just not strong enough underneath him and he says he feels terrible.

    His knee is actually feeling OK but he's compensating for the weakness in his upper leg, this is what I was told, that's causing a lot of other problems."

    Backup catcher Drew Butera replaced Mauer in the lineup for Thursday night's game against the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Twins have also recalled C Steve Holm from Triple-A Rochester to fill Mauer's spot on the 25-man roster.

    Neither catcher has anywhere near the offensive production of Mauer, so the obvious question at this point is: If Mauer is out long-term, what will the Twins do?

    Mauer is scheduled to meet with a specialist in Baltimore on Friday, the same specialist who treated Mauer's back issues in 2009. However, no timetable has been given, though reporter Phil Mackey indicated on Twitter that Twins GM Bill Smith said, "We don't think this is anything that's going to be cause for long-term alarm."

    That certainly remains to be seen at this point, until Mauer gets an official diagnosis.

    So, the question remains: Can the Twins keep pace in the AL Central without Mauer? What are their options at this point?

    We will examine some options that the Minnesota Twins could explore to keep themselves in the hunt in the AL Central should Mauer's absence be longer than expected.

    For continuing coverage of Major League Baseball, follow Doug on Twitter @Sports_A_Holic.

1. Seek Trade for Available Catcher

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    The two backup catchers in the Twins organization, Drew Butera and Steve Holm, are not viable long-term solutions for the Twins. Butera is considered a defensive-minded catcher with a weak bat, and Holm, 31, has exactly 53 games of major league experience, and only four in the past two seasons.

    General manger Bill Smith will likely be burning up the phone lines, especially if the diagnosis of Mauer's latest woes is more dire than expected.

    One candidate could be Bobby Wilson of the Los Angeles Angels. Wilson is one of three catchers on the current roster for the Angels, and with Hank Conger looked upon as the catcher of the future for the Angels, Wilson could be available.

    Could Smith possibly pry Ivan Rodriguez away from the Washington Nationals? The Nats are loaded with catching prospects, and Pudge could be a possible short-term answer for the Twins.

    In any event, Smith will need to do some quick thinking if Mauer's absence is longer than expected.

2. Middle of Lineup Trio of Morneau, Thome and Young Need to Step Up Now

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    Thus far, just 12 games into the season, the middle of the lineup trio of Justin Morneau, Jim Thome and Delmon Young are hitting a combined .222 with 10 extra base hits. The Twins have scored an average of three runs per game, last in the American League.

    With Mauer out of the lineup, this trio especially will need to find their groove, and fast.

3. Starting Pitching Other Than Pavano and Blackburn Must Improve Dramatically

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    Francisco Liriano has walked nine batters in 14.1 innings, and is currently sporting an ERA of 9.42. Scott Baker can't stop throwing gopher balls, and Brian Duensing needs to find the command that led to his promotion to the starting rotation last July.

    Good pitching can always help to mask issues on the offensive side, but if the starting pitching can't fix its own issues, the Twins will be looking at a long summer should Mauer be down for the count.

4. Move Cuddyer to Catcher Upon Mauer's Return

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    Seriously, can you name a position that utility man extraordinaire Michael Cuddyer hasn't covered during his time with the Minnesota Twins?

    Cuddyer can do just about anything, right?

    Obviously, I'm being just a little facetious with this slide. However, consider the rather extensive list of surgeries and injuries that Joe Mauer has already endured since 2004 (courtesy of SI's Tom Verducci):

    2004: Surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in left knee.

    2007: Stress reaction in left fibula.

    2008: Surgery for a minor kidney obstruction.

    2009: Inflammation in the sacroiliac joint (back).

    2010: Bruised left heel; right shoulder tendinitis; tissue inflammation in left knee; offseason arthroscopic surgery on left knee.

    2011: Bilateral leg weakness; soreness in hips, elbow and shoulder.

    With the current problem, it more than likely means that Mauer will have played his third consecutive season with under 140 games.

    Cuddyer can do just about anything, right?

    It has been well documented that Mauer does not favor a switch of positions, and while he certainly adds great value as a catcher, the continued wear and tear on his body at that position will more than likely lead to a shortened career.

    Cuddyer can do just about anything, right?

5. Draft a REALLY Good Catcher in the Upcoming Amateur Draft

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    The MLB Draft order was just announced yesterday, and the Minnesota Twins have the 30th and 50th picks.

    It would behoove the Twins to go after the best catcher they can find.

    As mentioned in Slide 4, Mauer would obviously prefer to continue catching, but given his histories of injuries, especially to his back and legs, he would be far better served to a position switch in the very near future.

    Since the Twins already have the corner infield positions locked up with perennial All-Star Justin Morneau at first and the emerging Danny Valencia at third, right field would seem to be the best option, especially considering that both Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer will be free agents at season's end.

    Drafting a top-flight catcher now will hasten Mauer's change of positions and allow him to extend his career.

    Also, as mentioned in the previous slide:

    Cuddyer can do just about anything, right?

    Obviously, drafting a catcher in the June Draft won't help now, but upon Mauer's return, give him reps at DH, first base and wherever else the Twins can find a spot for him.

    After all...

    Cuddyer can do just about anything, right?