MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 27: Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins works at first base during batting practice prior to the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 27, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Just last week, Joe Mauer was taken to task by at least one Twin Cities scribe because he (supposedly) showed little enthusiasm for playing first base. But you can't just throw a catcher at first base and assume he'll play the position with even moderate competence. Not without some practice first, anyway.
Well, Mauer's been taking grounders at first base, working on his throws to the bases, etc. And Thursday night he's going to play first base for the first time since playing one game there, eight years ago in the minors (he also played 13 games at first base in 2002). Here's manager Ron Gardenhire on this grand experiment:
"We won't really know until we get him over there and see, but honestly he's pretty fluid over there," Gardenhire said of Mauer, who was not in the lineup Wednesday but came in to pinch hit in the ninth and struck out to end the game. "He's got soft hands, he moves around there pretty well, all the fundamental parts."
In the short term, this move isn't likely to make a lick of difference to the Twins' fortunes, because a) the Twins are better with Mauer behind the plate, and b) management's going to get a real first baseman -- Justin Morneau, ideally -- out there as soon as possible. In the long term, though, if Mauer looks reasonably competent at first base, there will presumably be some pressure, from within the organization and without, to eventually turn Mauer into a first baseman, at some point during his mega-contract, if only to keep him healthy and playing.
Of course, First Baseman Joe Mauer doesn't figure to be nearly as valuable as Catcher Joe Mauer, unless he somehow becomes a better hitter when relieved of his catching duties. And the history of such things is not particularly rosy. What the Minnesota Twins need is a Joe Mauer who's healthy enough to catch regularly and to hit brilliantly. At this point, the existence of either creature is highly questionable. Let alone both.