The Albatross Has Landed

In case you haven\’t heard, Joe Mauer has signed an 8 year $184 million contract extension. This keeps Joe Mauer a Twin until 2018 (barring any opt-out clauses).

Rumor has it that the contract has a no-trade clause, and that the money will be paid evenly over the length of the contract (i.e. $23 million per year).

So why call it an albatross? The contract is expected to be between 20% and 25% of the Twins entire salary. Every baseball person agrees that devoting that much salary to one player is not a good idea. However there are a lot of reasons why people believe this contract make sense.

The first and foremost is that Mauer is One Of Us. A very important thing in Minnesota. Minnesotans are about as provincial of a people as you\’ll find. We think we are better than everyone else. We are smarter, better looking, heartier, more modest, and loyal. We reward loyalty, sometimes to a fault. So it\’s a feel good story that the local boy has done good. The stingy Twins stepped up and paid the big bucks for once.

Second, Mauer has a chance to be one of the greats. This is true. If he stays healthy and continues to perform as he has, even without further improvement, he will be in the hall of fame someday. His page backs that up. It also helps that he\’s a catcher; a position that generally isn\’t known for providing much offense.

Third, with the opening of a new ballpark the Twins badly needed a star to anchor the team to fill it. Having a hometown boy to do it is just icing on the cake. Doesn\’t hurt that the next big star is Canadian. We\’re all honorary Canadians here in Minnesota anyway.

So with all these good reasons, why an albatross?

The first question I have is: was last year a glimpse of what is to come, or was that a contract year? Even though techincally this year would have been a contract year, for all intents and purposes last year was his contract year for sticking with the Twins. Had he played poorly the Twins still would have offered an extension, but for far less money. I hope I\’m wrong, but I\’m afraid we saw career highs in multiple categories for Joe in 2009 (even though he missed a month).

Which takes me to my next point: health. Is it smart to give guaranteed money to a guy with bad knees and bad back who plays the most physically demanding position in the game?

And speaking of long term health, what about the length of that contract. The debate around here with Joe has always been, \”what is his worth if he couldn\’t catch?\” At current production levels he\’s about worth Matt Holiday (per TwinsCentric), which is about $8 million less per year on the high end.

Also, what about Wilson Ramos. The best catching prospect in the minors right now? Is he now trade bait? Or will the Twins end up with the luxury of two excellent catchers in a few years, just in time for Joe to start DH-ing a few more games?

My last point is free agency. This off season has been the off season that Twins fans have longed for. Actually money has been spent, and on players that have a chance of being good. No Mike Lambs in the bunch! According to some estimates the Twins will be looking at about $4 million next year to fill spots at 2nd base, starting pitcher, and a host of other backup and relief positions. As blogger John Bonnes wrote today: So no, I don’t think it cripples the Twins. But it does likely mean that spending on free agents in the next decade could look an awful lot like it did last decade. This was a great offseason for the Twins and their fans. I hope you are enjoying it, because we likely won’t see another like it for another nine years.
That\’s an important point. Will we see a return of the Butch Huskeys, Jose Offermans, and Tony Batistas of the world? Probably yes.

In the end, the Twins had no choice. They had to sign Mauer and sign him to a big contract. We knew Mauer wouldn\’t give the Twins a hometown discount, although that won\’t stop him from complaining about the talent around him when the team goes 81-81. The Twins had no choice but to overpay. In a perfect world no baseball player would make $23 million a year. That\’s $142,000 per game. Nearly $16,000 per inning. Over $100 every time Joe catches a pitch. And that assumes he plays every day, which he won\’t.

My concern is all hinged on the belief that the Twins will continue with their relatively stingy ways outside of this one dalliance into big time contracts. If so, this signing has hampered the Twins in the way that they feared a huge contract for Johan Santana or Torii Hunter would. At least the locals can feel good when the Twins are in 3rd place in 2015 and local boy made good is behind the plate.

Let\’s hope I\’m wrong.







One response to “The Albatross Has Landed”

  1. Mark Avatar

    As Homer would say, “Me concur!”

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