Minnesota Twins fans can now breathe a collective sigh of relief.
The biggest drama of the offseason—Joe Mauer’s contract status (or lack thereof)—has finally come to an end.
The deal reportedly includes a full no-trade clause and will pay the All-Star backstop $23 million per season from 2011-2018.
This is undoubtedly the largest contract in franchise history, but also one of the most important.
Mauer, 26, was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
In high school, he was a multi-sport star at Saint Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall. During his senior year Mauer became the first—and only—athlete to be selected as the USA Today High School Player of the Year in two sports (football and baseball).
Mauer’s multi-sport prowess led him to make an important decision in 2001 when he turned down a football scholarship to Florida State University to enter the Major League Baseball amateur draft.
The Twins selected the hometown boy with the first-overall pick in the 2001 draft and the club was widely-criticized for taking the “easy pick” over the supposedly more talented Mark Prior, who had pitched at the University of Southern California.
Less than a decade later, Prior is a footnote in baseball history and serves as one of the ultimate “what might have been” cases of the generation.
Mauer, on the other hand, has blossomed into one of baseball’s brightest stars. In the process, he has more than shown he was the right choice and not the easy choice in the 2001 draft.
The hefty payday comes as no surprise on the heels of Mauer’s MVP campaign in 2009 in which he set career-highs with 28 home runs, 96 RBI, 191 hits, and 307 total bases despite missing the entire month of April with a back injury.
He made an immediate impact upon returning to the lineup by crushing a home run in his very first at-bat and never looked back.
Additionally, he led the AL in the new age Triple Crown categories of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage by posting a very impressive .365/.444/.587 cumulative batting line.
After his extraordinary return to the lineup, Mauer played in 138 of the team’s remaining 141 games.
Despite missing a month, and starting 28 games at designated hitter, Mauer managed to catch 939 innings, ranking fifth in the American League.
The MVP is just one of many awards that currently adorn Mauer’s mantle as he also won his third Silver Slugger, his third batting title, his second Gold Glove, and was voted the winner of the 2009 Players Choice Award for AL Outstanding Player, an award voted on by his peers.
Additionally, Mauer made his third All-Star team and lead the Minnesota Twins back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
The Twins were 11-11 while Mauer was out in April, but went 76-65 after he rejoined the club. In September, Mauer played a big role as the Twins overcome a seven-game deficit to win the AL Central.
His importance to the ballclub is undeniable, but it could be argued that it was even more important for the state of Minnesota that Mauer sign an extension rather than land in Boston or New York before Opening Day 2011.
There was speculation more than a month ago that a deal was imminent—if not completed—but that turned out to be false. Lingering negotiations led fans and media members to wonder if the deal had hit a snag or, perhaps, if Mauer had become trade bait.
Luckily, we now know those fears were unfounded. Although given the club’s history, one can’t fault anyone for being concerned.
The Twins have long-been a small-budget operation. In recent years many fan favorites such as Torii Hunter and Johan Santana exited via free agency or trade as a result of the team’s unwillingness to match the big money offers those players could garner on the open market.
This offseason, however, there were signs of change with the opening of Target Field and an anticipated increase in revenue the club has already increased payroll by roughly $30 million from Opening Day last season.
Signing Mauer to a deal of this magnitude shows that the Twins are not only committed to winning, but to pleasing the fans as well. Losing Mauer would have been devastating to the Twins fan-base and—subsequently—the franchise’s bottom line.
That situation has been avoided on what must be considered a major gamble for the organization.
Mauer is, after all, a catcher.
He plays the most demanding position in the game and has a track record of injuries to his knees and back. At 6’5” and 225 pounds, he is very large for the position and could conceivably have a limited shelf life behind the plate.
Additionally, the Twins are banking on last year’s sudden power surge becoming a trend rather than an aberration.
In the end, I think all parties involved come out okay in the deal.
The Twins have avoided any chance of a being run out of town by an angry, pitch-fork wielding mob of dejected Minnesotans and ensured themselves a pretty solid number three hitter for the better part of the next decade.
Mauer has long-term security and more money than Minnesota has lakes.
This would be a good time to make a comment about how Twins fans are the real winners in this deal, but let’s be honest, Joe Mauer just signed a deal for $184 million.
The fans come in second on this one, but I think we’re all a-okay with that.