Paying For Joe Mauer's Youthful Brilliance

First baseman Mike Olt of the Texas Rangers shares a laugh with Joe Mauer the Minnesota Twins at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)

You would smile too, if your hometown team was paying you $23 million every year forever. But did the Twins really have to keep Joe Mauer?

Last season, Joe Mauer's almost-lifetime contract kicked in, so he earned $23 million.

He'll get used to that figure, because he's going to earn $23 million in each season through 2018.

That's a lot.

Last season, according to FanGraphs, he was worth around $7 million on the field.

This season, he'll wind up around $20 million.

Believe it or not, Mauer turns 30 next spring. So it's not hard to imagine that in most or all of the six remaining seasons on Mauer's contract, he won't be worth -- again, strictly on the field -- what the Twins will be paying him. Which we might not even notice, except (in case you haven't noticed) the Twins are really terrible. Last season they finished in last place, and at the moment they're in last place. It's usually not good when a last-place team is paying someone $23 million. And probably can't trade him.

Which led Joe Posnanski to observe this strange situation, where Mauer is making a mint every season, but was placed on waivers even though he's the Franchise, but apparently no team claimed him. Because of the $23 million (times six).

So why did the Twins offer Mauer that contract in the first place? Did they have a choice? Posnanski:

If the Twins had been pragmatic and cruel, they might have let someone else foot the bill for the decline of Mauer's career. There is no question that the Twins -- even in March 2010, when they cut the deal -- had to know that catchers don’t last, that Mauer already had some health questions, that his greatness would diminish, perhaps gradually and gracefully, perhaps abruptly. But he was so great. And he meant so much to the team and to the fans. And he was so great. And he was a hometown guy. And he was so great. And letting him go would say so much about what the Twins were about. And there is always the hope, no matter how illogical, that the good times will last.

--snip--

But this is how the baseball system works. Someone had to pay for the greatness of the young Joe Mauer. That someone, in this case, turned out to be the team that has benefited from that greatness in the city where Joe Mauer grew up. That, I guess, is what passes for a touching story in baseball today.

You should read the whole thing. It's interesting, just like everything else Joe writes. I do have a couple of quibbles, though. In order, then ...

I don't believe that Mauer's eight-year, $184-million contract had anything to do with anti-pragmatism or non-cruelness.

When Mauer got his deal, he was coming off a 2009 season in which he pretty obviously was the greatest baseball player on Earth. Gosh, he was a catcher who led the Big Boy League in batting average, on-base average, and slugging average. Even if the Twins assumed he wouldn't maintain that sort of power, it wouldn't have been outlandish for them to figure he would be worth that contract in the long term, once a bit of goodwill was factored into the equation.

I don't know that I would have given him that much money. Let alone the full no-trade protection. But if you were management and wanted to justify such a massive outlay to ownership, you could make a case, pragmatically. Not a great case, perhaps. But a case.

As for cruelty, to whom would it have been cruel, if Mauer were allowed to go elsewhere?

To Mauer? Hardly. While it might have hurt him, way down deep inside, to leave his hometown team, that would have been his choice. Just as it was Albert Pujols's choice to leave the Cardinals.

To the fans? Maybe. But I've noticed something about baseball fans. As long as you keep winning, they will forgive just about anything. And they can get over just about anything, given some time.

I just don't think there would have been anything cruel about it.

And finally, yes, "someone had to pay for the greatness of the young Joe Mauer" ... but nobody had to pay so much for that greatness. Yes, someone would have. If not the Twins, the Yankees or the Red Sox or someone else. But no one has to. Teams choose to. And usually they wind up regretting it, just as the Red Sox came to regret paying for the greatness of John Lackey, for the greatness of Carl Crawford, for the greatness of Josh Beckett.

You know where the Twins really screwed up? When they signed Mauer for $184 million, he was already under contract. When they signed him, he was already locked up for 2010. Considering that he was coming off an MVP season, you had to think his value could only go down ... and after the season, since they were going to offer him whatever it took, they could have gotten him cheaper.

Of course we weren't there. Maybe the Twins believed that if they let Mauer reach free agency, his feelings would have been hurt and he would have preferred signing with another club. But if that had happened, they wouldn't have had to pay for the greatness of the young Joe Mauer and they would have had an easy excuse: "Hey, don't blame us. We tried to sign the guy."

Worked for the Cardinals, anyway.

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