General : : Professional
Monday, March 22, 2010

Joe Mauer is worth every cent

Jim Ecker        
The Minnesota Twins just poked the Yankees, Red Sox and all the other rich kids in the eye.

Back off, the Twins said loudly. Joe Mauer is ours. Maybe forever.

You’ve got to admit, $184 million is a chunk of money, especially for a catcher who’s never played more than 146 games in a single year, but Mauer undoubtedly is a special guy, a Twin Cities product who’s already won three batting titles, two Gold Gloves and an MVP Award.

And he’s only 26 years old!
The new eight-year contract, announced Sunday, means Mauer will be on Minnesota’s payroll through the 2018 campaign, when he’ll still be only 35. He’s got a no-trade clause in the deal, which means the Twins cannot trade him without his permission, but that’s the whole idea.

Mauer doesn’t want to go anywhere else, and the Twins want to keep him forever. That’s the foundation for a great marriage.

Sure, catchers get hurt. They get worn out. Their legs go. They don’t last forever. There are no guarantees, but Minnesota had to keep him. It would have been a public relations disaster if the Twins had let him slip away to the Yanks, Red Sox or anyone else.

Minnesota just built a new stadium, and the team’s featured attraction is young Joe Mauer, who hit .365 last season and became the first catcher to win an American League batting title. Ever.

They couldn’t afford to lose him, even if it might be difficult to pay him an average of $23 million per annum. He’s worth it, a career .327 hitter who keeps getting better and better.

Minnesota is not one of those big-city teams, with mega-millions from local TV deals, but if anyone is worth $23 million a year, it’s Mauer, a fan-friendly, immensely popular guy in the Twin Cities. The Twins lost Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, a pair of all-stars, in recent years, mostly because they couldn’t afford to keep them, but Mauer is different. He’s the face of the franchise, and you can’t let those guys go to New York or Boston.

This is a victory for small-market teams all over the country, but mostly it’s a victory for Twins fans. They won’t resent the hefty price tag. They’ll embrace him even more, if that’s possible, celebrating the native son who stayed home, instead of packing his bags for a bigger stage.

Hurray, Joe. And hurray, Twins. You got it right.

Mauer got the fourth-largest contract in baseball history, trailing only a pair of deals for Alex Rodriguez ($252 million in 2001 and $275 million in 2008) and one for Derek Jeter ($189 million in 2001). That’s fancy company.

The Twins signed Justin Morneau to an $80-million contract before the 2008 season, and this year they’ve invested in Nick Blackburn ($14 million over 4 years) and Denard Span ($16.5 million over 5 years), expanding their payroll by 50 percent since last year.

Minnesota has won five AL Central titles in the last eight years. With Mauer now a Twin forever, they might do better than that.

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