Joe Mauer might be the most unappreciated franchise player in the history of baseball, with many of his own fans constantly complaining about his contract, questioning his ability to stay on the field, and often times booing him when he steps to the plate during a cold slump.
But if given the opportunity again, the Minnesota Twins would probably sign Mauer to his current megadeal again and again because it was the best possible move at the end of the day.
Mauer and the Twins agreed on an eight-year deal worth $184 million in March 2010 after months of negotiations. Mauer was the reigning American League MVP at the time and had just won his third batting title and second gold glove. Unlike most long-term contracts in Major League baseball, his salary wasn’t scaled on an incline and would remain at $23 million per season over the duration of the entire eight seasons, thus avoiding Minnesota having to pay Mauer to the tune of $30 million or more in his final years. A lot of people around baseball questioned the length of the contract, which will place the lifelong Minnesota native at 35 years old when it’s all over, but not too many objections were raised right away.
The Twins were a good team when this deal was agreed upon. They were coming off their fifth AL Central title in eight years and would go onto win another divisional crown the next season. With a very young Twins team currently holding the second best record in the American League and one of baseball’s elite farm systems, it would appear that the Twins will be a good team in 2018, the final year of Mauer’s contract.
The four years between their last division crown and now weren’t pretty, but that wasn’t due to Mauer or his contract, who has played reasonably well despite multiple injury issues. He led the league in on-base percentage in 2012 and had the league’s second best batting average in 2013, making the All-Star team in both seasons. The former first overall pick has also been one of the best high-leverage performers across Major League baseball this season, batting .380 with a .435 OBP with runners in scoring position so far this season.
Where would the Twins have wound up putting the money they spent on Mauer if they let their franchise player walk? It probably would have gone towards players like utility man Michael Cuddyer and outfielder Jason Kubel, who both left left Minnesota for richer contracts after the 2011 season. Kubel is currently out of baseball today while Cuddyer is batting below .250 with the New York Mets. Both players are also older than Mauer. Franchise saves leader Joe Nathan, who also left the Twins after the 2011 season, is another player who the Twins might have been able to offer a little more money to stay if they had it, but that might have never opened up the door for Glen Perkins to emerge as the superstar closer he is today.
The farm system didn’t help either as it was dried out by general manager Bill Smith, who was fired after the 2011 season, and most of the prospects who he had put in the system weren’t that promising, giving the Twins little to no young talent on the roster. With slugging first baseman Justin Morneau struggling to get his career back on track after a 2010 concussion, Mauer was literally left alone to carry a team that was going nowhere.
In hard times, Mauer gave the Minnesota Twins a recognizable face and that makes the contract worth every penny. Today, he is co-leader in hits on one of the American League’s best teams and with players like Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe establishing themselves as everyday Major League players to go along with an incredible crop of up-and-coming prospects like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario, this franchise is slowing crawling back to relevance with Mauer as a key piece.