Was Joe Mauer's MVP Snub a Blessing for the Twins?
As much I think Joe Mauer deserved the MVP award this year, I can't complain too much about Dustin Pedroia winning it. He reminds me of Nick Punto, but with real skill, so the appeal is clearer.
What I can complain about is Justin Morneau finishing second and Mauer getting just two first place votes and winding up in fifth place. Don't get me wrong, Morneau had a great season, and had he not gone into his late season swoon he probably would have won it.
Then again, had Carlos Quentin remembered that the bat is supposed to hit the ball, not your own wrist, the award was probably his to lose.
Mauer's contribution to the Twins this year went far beyond the offensive stats that make the Baseball writers swoon. He finally won the Gold Glove he has deserved for the past few seasons, won the A.L. Batting title again, had an OBP over .400, and, most importantly, he held together baseball's youngest pitching staff in the heat of a pennant chase.
Joe Mauer was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Twins' most valuable player, but could his loss be the Twins' gain?
Mauer's current contract runs out after the 2010 season, the season the Twins will move into Target Field. Common sense says the increase in payroll will be a perfect time to resign Mauer to a long-term deal.
I say, strike while the iron is hot and lock him up now.
Mauer is the best catcher in the A.L. and likely the best in baseball. Brian McCann is probably Mauer's closest competition and has better power numbers, but I'll trade 50 points of OPS for Gold Glove caliber defense any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Mauer isn't showing signs of a decrease in skill. He'll likely compete for the batting title and gold glove again next year. If his power numbers improve just a bit, he'll probably be amongst the early favorites for MVP. He'll have had a full year with this pitching staff, and will be able to call games that much better.
All this to say: Mauer isn't going to get cheaper. His first two contracts were signed near market-value, which goes up exponentially rather than linearly. An MVP year in 2010 could push Mauer out of the Twins' normal price range, which would be a PR disaster.
Losing Johan Santana was one thing, losing Mauer, the "local boy made good," would be devastating.
Re-signing Mauer isn't a risk-free proposition. His 146 games this year was a career high, and his knees won't last forever. He'll either start missing more games or he'll need to move out from behind the plate, likely to third base.
Part of Mauer's value is that he produces from a traditionally dead position; getting such production from a catcher is part of the reason the Twins can afford to have Nick Punto at third. If he has to move to a more traditional power position, he will lose some of his uniqueness and therefore, some of his value.
The question for the Twins is whether or not Mauer is worth the gamble; will he continue to produce at a high level after 2010 or will his injury history be the story of his career?
The answer appears to be yes. Mauer's skills aren't the kind that decay quickly. His eye at the plate is stellar, he works pitchers well, and he's smart. Those traits will survive a position change, and will continue to serve Mauer well long after his knees give out. He can catch for a few more seasons and then move if need be, but he will continue to be an asset.
The Twins need to lock Mauer up before the rest of the league has a chance to get their bids in on him. It's only a matter of time before he claims more hardware and his value erupts, so now, while he's still getting snubbed, the Twins need to strike.
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