from Sports Illustrated
A national crisis has been averted, and Joe Mauer signed a contract extension to remain with the Twins for the next nine seasons, including this one. To be honest, I'm not incredibly impressed with the deal from the Twins standpoint (obviously, it's pretty awesome from Mauer's), but they had zero leverage. But I'm not here to talk about WAR and the market price for wins. I want to know what happened in the negotiating room, particularly when it came to the elephant.
Currently, Mauer is 26 years old, and in a month, he'll turn 27. He's in his prime physically. He's already one of the best hitters in the game, and he won his second straight Gold Glove last season (yes, we can argue over the validity of such an award, but he is widely considered a great defensive catcher; maybe I should have just said that instead). But in four years, he will be 30 going on 31, and there will be five seasons left on his contract. He's already played 607 games behind the plate, and if he stays reasonably healthy for the next four seasons, he will have played 520 more (130 games on average). I realize that 30 and 31 year olds should be better able to handle the workload, and Mauer seems to take good care of himself. But I wonder what the true age of those knees are? Don't forget that he was sidelined for most of 2004 because of a knee injury, and he seems to have some back issues. And at age 30-31, the Twins will have approximately $117.5 MM left on Mauer's contract.
Obviously, I'm harping on the potential injury risk, but I'm willing to grant that Jorge Posada is still catching at age 38 (though he hasn't been a catcher his entire life). Still, Bench was done as a catcher by 33, and Piazza was as well (though he caught 101 games at 35). Regardless, Mauer could catch through the life of his contract, but I wonder if he should. More importantly, I'm wondering if a position switch was addressed at all during the negotiations.
How does a team handle such a subject? From their perspective, it might minimize the risk by moving him to third or first, but in the middle of a negotiation in which you have no leverage, do you chance bringing it up? To a competitive athlete in his prime, this might come off as an insult, and it might hurt the negotiations. On one hand, this is a completely rational approach by the Twins to ask about such a move, but on the other hand, people don't react rationally. After eight or nine years in the organization, the Twins probably know his personality and how he might react.
And how would you react as a player? Mauer is fully healthy. His knee problems don't seem to have flared up since 2004, and his back didn't seem to mind carrying the Twins to the division title last season. He keeps himself in great shape, and there's reason to believe he can catch throughout the life of his contract. AND, the Twins want to pay you $184 MM! They think that much of you (and other teams might think more of you), but they want you to switch positions in the middle of the contract? Plus, when have you ever played third or first on a consistent basis? Will you be comfortable there? More importantly, are you guaranteed not to get hurt there? And does a player consider his future (after baseball)? Mauer's knees are going to be horrible if he plays the rest of his career behind the plate, and at age 50, he might regret that. But do you think that far ahead? Sometimes, it's hard to admit that, at some point, you won't be able to do what you can now?
And what about Wilson Ramos, the hot catching prospect? He's almost 23, and he'll be in AAA this season. Do you trade him now to address another need? Do you stash him on the bench for three years? Do you use him to show Mauer that it might be better to move off catcher and let him play? Granted, Ramos isn't a sure thing, but you have to keep him in mind.
And what about the guys Mauer would be replacing? Danny Valencia wouldn't be that big of a roadblock, and they could just trade him. Most people, however, have mentioned first base. What do you do about Morneau? I'm guessing Minnesotans love them some Morneau. He'll be at first at least through 2013, and he'll be 32. There would be no reason not to re-sign him or move him (unless he gets hurt, but we're looking on the bright side).
Or do you just roll with the punches? Just let things come as they may? Do you not plan, knowing things can drastically change? Or is your (Bill Smith's) job on the line to the point where not planning could kill you?
I'm not sure what I'd do. But I have two comments. One, I hope the Twins and Mauer talked about this because it could have a major impact on the organization. Two, I'm glad I'm not Bill Smith.
Note: This is a bit different than the Derek Jeter situation. Jeter is well past his prime, and while it might be sticky, you have to ask him about moving.