Hey Joe, What's Next?
Image courtesy of © Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY SportsUsing the Twittersphere to conduct a quick impromptu poll, just over 100 responses rolled in to the question, "What do you think Joe Mauer does in 2019?" With the available responses being that he stays with the Twins, heads elsewhere, or retires, there was an overwhelming response regarding two of the three outcomes. Most of the respondents suggested that the hometown boy will stick with the Twins a year after his current contract is up. Roughly one-third of the vote reflected a belief he
retires, and a small 9% minority believes that he will go elsewhere.
When judging what's next for Mauer, I think there are a few things in play. Obviously at this point in time, we have no idea how 2018 will play out for the Twins first basemen. He's coming off the first season since 2013 in which he hit above .300, and it's also the first time his OPS has been above .800 since that same season. He very nearly (and should've) won a Gold Glove, and the 2.3 fWAR made him a very solid asset for Minnesota.
In trying to project what will happen a year from now, I believe we have two relatively straightforward paths. Should Mauer again be a productive player, he's probably looking at a one- or two-year deal from Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. If he happens to fall off a cliff in his age 35 season, I'd have to imagine he'll consider retirement on his own. What I don't foresee happening is the St. Paul native relocating to a new city in his 16th big league season, to hang on for a short amount of time.
First and foremost, Mauer's family is in Minnesota. As a dad of twin girls, uprooting them and his wife at this stage in his career seems like a relatively unnecessary burden. Considering the on-field aspects of any change, the reality is that even with a great year, a long term commitment isn't going to be made for a player entering his age 36 season. A one or two year scenario that could see Mauer relegated to relief duty by the end of it, seems to suggest joining a new club would be a pretty difficult ask. At first base, high OPS and power hitting players are the ones generally welcomed as bench bats. On top of that, while Mauer isn't a nuisance, he's more of a lead by example type than a traditional vocal clubhouse leader.
Acknowledging that the current front office isn't composed the same way as it was in 2015, the Minnesota Twins handed Torii Hunter a one-year $10.5 million that season. He was coming off a .765 OPS with the Tigers, and had become a relative liability in the field. For Minnesota in 2015, he posted a .702 OPS (worst since 1999) and played in 139 games. His largest impact on the team was easily in the clubhouse, and he helped to push that team to an unexpected winning season.
Unable to be counted on for 15 plus home runs, or an energizing clubhouse presence like Torii, Mauer will need to prove his value in other ways. I can't see the current Twins front office dangling anything close to a $10 million deal, but something near 50% of that could make some sense. A team-friendly deal that allows Mauer to contribute with his glove, while providing some value with his bat, would be something I think Falvey and Levine would sign up for.
At this point, it's far too early to speculate what a deal may look like, or how the playing options going forward could shake out. So much of that narrative will depend on the production put forth in the campaign that lies ahead. What I do believe to be certain however, is that Mauer will either remain a Twin or will walk away. I fail to see a scenario in which he's the best option for an opposing club, and similarly, where they're the best option for him. When the dust settles, it will definitely be the end of an era. From there, we'll have five years to discuss what his journey to Cooperstown could be like.
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