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Awkward Decisions

Joe Mauer is the best player in modern (post-2000) Twins history. Byron Buxton could be in line to succeed him as face of the franchise.

These are very important players, not to mention very likable players. So it creates an awkward situation when their own best interests conflict with those of the Twins.

But the team must come before the player. And that's why it should not be a given that Mauer returns in 2019, nor that Buxton returns in September.
Image courtesy of Dan Hamilton, USA Today
Let's start with Joe Mauer.

Mauer has been climbing toward the top of franchise record books this season. Most recently, he became the third Twin ever to reach 1,000 runs scored, days after passing Rod Carew for second on the all-time hits list.

As the 35-year-old checks off these estimable accomplishments, it's easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of his former greatness. But the truth is that Mauer hasn't been a great player in five years. The closest he came was last year – a genuinely solid season – but in 2018 he has returned to the same mediocre rate of production that's been customary since his move to first base.

Watching him play, one can't be blamed for exaggerating Mauer's impact. He has legitimately been one of the best clutch performers in baseball this year. Almost every hit he collects these days seems to knock out another milestone. Plus, there's the exemplary plate approach, and the sterling defense.

But from an objective standpoint, Mauer just hasn't been much of a difference-maker. At all. Both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference have him pegged at less than one win above replacement level. His .729 OPS ranks 111th in the majors. His raw strength, never a true asset, is clearly diminishing – Mauer has gone long stretches of this season with absolutely no power output. His middling walk rate doesn't make up for the lack of bat.

Other than wishful thinking, I'm not sure what'd make anyone expect this to change for the better in 2019. Realistically it seems far more likely he'll lose a little more bat speed, and a little more reaction time. Mauer is not a net negative to the team right now but he isn't far off, and there will be ample opportunity to find a significant upgrade during the offseason.

Yet, so many people are deferring to Mauer completely on this decision. I've seen it from fans and media. I've seen it (more understandably) from coaches and teammates. If Joe wants to come back, and will accept a reasonable contract, he's back – so goes the prevailing wisdom. Conspicuously, it's not a stance that has been openly taken by Derek Falvey or Thad Levine.

Personally, if he'll come back on a low-cost one-year deal, and is open to a more limited role, I'm not opposed to Mauer coming back. But his well-earned status shouldn't dictate the club's path. Why do so many otherwise logical folks feel it should?

Now, as for Byron Buxton.

I laid out my feelings regarding the Buxton situation two weeks ago when he came off the disabled list at Triple A. But he became a topic of discussion again on Wednesday night when Paul Molitor stated that a decision hasn't yet been made regarding his fate for September.

My thought when he was activated was that Buxton should be able to earn his way back up. Has he? Well, he's been hitting for a ton of power at Rochester, with nine extra-base hits and a .659 in 10 games. It's absolutely been his best burst of offense all year.

But he also has drawn one walk in 46 plate appearances, with 10 strikeouts. And when talking to reporters, Molitor notably pointed out that Buxton's been "pulling the ball at a high rate." That hasn't always been a great indicator for him in the past.

Buck's results are obviously back where the Twins want them; one wonders about the process.

Again, it can't be overstated how valuable that extra year of service time will be in 2022, when Buxton is 28 (for relevant perspective, Aaron Hicks is 28 now). Whether the front office is running out the string on his service clock, or engaging in extension negotiations, or discussing trades with another team – from any perspective, it's just really key.

So I can see why this is a much trickier equation than some make it out to be. Especially when you consider the inherent questions around Buxton's health (which would seemingly benefit from an extra month's rest tacked onto his offseason), and the lack of available playing time in the Twins outfield.

When asked, Falvey said they're not factoring Buxton's team control into their thinking (what else are ya gonna say), but the truth is that even negating that, there's still a case for holding off – albeit a slightly weaker one if his average is still close to .400 in a week.

I'm happy not to be the one making the call.

The fan in me wants to see Buxton in September and Mauer in 2019. But the more analytical side, thinking strategically and strictly for the good of the team, feels more conflicted – especially with regard to Mauer.

When Falvey and Levine were brought aboard, the hope among so many of us was that they'd be guided less by sentimentality, and more by data, logic, shrewd reason.

Because of this, I'm a little surprised by the unpopularity of either scenario – opting to part ways with Mauer this offseason, or leave Buxton out this September – even among people I almost always find myself in agreement with.

... Awkward.

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265 Comments

Is it an awkward decisions for the Twins to start relief pitchers that can't get though the 1st without giving up runs, and still not have the "starter" make it past the 5th?

Of all the things baseball has done, I hate this worse than anything else. If the Twins do this next year, I will not go to a game that isn't started by an actual starter.

    • Twins33 and jimmer like this

 

If Mauer comes back for one or two years, does it matter what he makes? Even if it is 15 million per, does that stop the Twins from saying anybody because of payroll size. I say No.

 

Doesn't matter to me. 

    • Channing1964 likes this
If it doesn't matter what Mauer makes, then I never again want to hear about budgetary constraints when we come in second place for a FA signing.

Can't have it both ways. Either the Twins are mid market with budgetary constraints, and need to make every dollar count, or the money doesn't matter and they should be able to top any offer for Machado and/or Kershaw.
    • Mike Sixel and TheLeviathan like this
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LA VIkes Fan
Sep 05 2018 09:44 AM

I really don't think it's only the money that keeeps away a Kershaw or Machado type - it's the losing. These guys are typically at a point in their careers where they can command a long term contract and want to be on a team in a place where there is a committment to winning and contending yearly. The Twins don't have that reputation right now, the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, etc. all do.Why go be the bell cow on a losing team that MIGHT contend in the future when you can get the same money or more to be part of a winner? 

 

The biggest Challenge facing this Front Office is not whether Mauer should come back, who plays 2B, or who is the #1 starter - it's how do they change a culture of settling for mediocrity. That was Terry Ryan's failing - he was too willing to settle for a team that was respectable but not good enough to truly contend. He wouldn't do unpopular things like trade aging vets the fans liked, trade propects or shake up the internal culture to try to generate a winner. Ownership obviously has a lot to do with that too. Sometimes you have to trade fan favorites, tear down resepctable teams, sacrifice prospects, and take real risk to get that winning culture started. Become a winner, show that you will make sacrifices and take risks to always try to stay a winner and Free Agents will beat a path to you door. Not only that, they'll do it for less money, not more. 

    • birddog likes this

 

I really don't think it's only the money that keeeps away a Kershaw or Machado type - it's the losing. These guys are typically at a point in their careers where they can command a long term contract and want to be on a team in a place where there is a committment to winning and contending yearly. The Twins don't have that reputation right now, the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, etc. all do.Why go be the bell cow on a losing team that MIGHT contend in the future when you can get the same money or more to be part of a winner? 

 

Well, if it is the same money or more, then it isn't about the money........but that's not the argument. The argument is that if the money is DIFFERENT, then the highest bidder is going to win. 

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LA VIkes Fan
Sep 05 2018 10:02 AM

I understand that but I don't agree, the biggest offer doesn't always win and really doesn't with the truly great players. My point is that guys like Machado and Kershaw aren't going to come to the Twins for even more money unless they're convinced the team is building a long term winner. This isn't about "offer him the most money and he'll come here". These guys have already made a lot of money and a few million dollars isn't going to make or break a decision. The Twins start from behind because of a losing history and money alone isn't going to overcome that for any but the truly mercenary player, and you don't want that guy anyway. Toxic in the clubhouse. 

 

Step One is showing the free agents that something special is happening with the Twins that they want to be part of. It's why guys take the same or less money to go to the Patriots, the Warriors, the Spurs in the old days, and much as I hate to say it, the Yankees, Indians and Red Sox. You go there because you know the team is committed to winning above all else and you want to be part of something bigger than the numbers on your paycheck. You can change players perceptions - who would have considered the Indians or Astros as committed to excllence even 5 or 10 years ago? I really think that's the FO's main challenge.I don't have any great ideas on how to do that but I do think that the FO should be out there front and center constantly telling the Press how their every move is designed to create a long term winner in Minnesota, the owner needs to say that this is about winning not sqeezing out a bigger return, and then back it up. Let's see if that happens.  

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Channing1964
Sep 05 2018 03:15 PM

time most certainly will tell. Since we have the FOOY in place already i am sure we will end up with some Cleveland Indian or Texas Rangers retread in place on opening day 2019. WAIT!!! was that Gimenez starting at 1b the other day?? Now i get it...My bad. Not to worry Twins fans we had Mauer's replacement all along.

The two of them together contributed close to nothing this year. We could fill their spots with average major leaguers and it would be an upgrade

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Channing1964
Sep 05 2018 03:23 PM
Is there anybody out there that really believes Joe Mauer doesn't deserve a chance to go to Spring Training and compete for a spot on the ROSTER?? After what hes done for us doesnt he DESERVE that? Assuming he wants to play baseball any more, would he ask for anything more than a chance to make the team. If you know Joe, and we do. He'll play for whatever they give him...and play well too. Nobody takes his spot unlessnhe let's em do it.

 

Is there anybody out there that really believes Joe Mauer doesn't deserve a chance to go to Spring Training and compete for a spot on the ROSTER?? After what hes done for us doesnt he DESERVE that? Assuming he wants to play baseball any more, would he ask for anything more than a chance to make the team. If you know Joe, and we do. He'll play for whatever they give him...and play well too. Nobody takes his spot unlessnhe let's em do it.

 

How would you decide, based on like 10 spring training games? And, if you do that, you aren't signing a FA or trading for competition for him, are you? So, he kind of wins......

 

No, he doesn't deserve it at all. He got a contract, both sides honored it, and now he should be judged as being more or less valuable than other options. If not, how many years does this go on? Because at some point, everyone here would stop playing him, even if he wanted to play until he was 100.

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Channing1964
Sep 05 2018 03:51 PM
my point is, why are we talking about this. Is Joe Mauer gonna hold the Twins at gun point forba one year 25 million dollar deal. Hell no, where have you been. If he can't perform he will go home from Florida and retire. Go ahead and try to replace him. He will give it all he's got just like he always has. He deserves a chance to make the team. He wouldn't ask for anything more. If he can stand playing for this front office any more.

 

Is there anybody out there that really believes Joe Mauer doesn't deserve a chance to go toSpring Training and compete for a spot on the ROSTER?? After what hes done for us doesnt he DESERVE that? Assuming he wants to play baseball any more, would he ask for anything more than a chance to make the team. If you know Joe, and we do. He'll play for whatever they give him...and play well too. Nobody takes his spot unlessnhe let's em do it.

So what if he doesn't make the team?Does he accept an assighment?

 

It doesn't work that way.The team ultimately decides what dierection it goes.Why in the world should we sign a concussed 36 year old player who is way past his prime?What if he gets another concussion?

 

It really is kind of silly thinking about it on those terms.

 

my point is, why are we talking about this. Is Joe Mauer gonna hold the Twins at gun point forba one year 25 million dollar deal. Hell no, where have you been. If he can't perform he will go home from Florida and retire. Go ahead and try to replace him. He will give it all he's got just like he always has. He deserves a chance to make the team. He wouldn't ask for anything more. If he can stand playing for this front office any more.

 

How good or bad does he have to be to not be on the team for you? He can only play about 100 games a year now.....and only 1B or DH. He's a league average hitter at the easiest defensive positions in the game (league average including pitchers and catchers in the numbers). What does "can't perform" mean to you? I'm just curious.....also, it's not hard to replace him.

 

Austin, Garver, Kepler, Sano, 4th/5th OFer at DH some, free agent, trade. All of those are likely to outhit him next year, and offer position flexibility. 

 

I'm assuming if he was the worst hitter in baseball, people wouldn't want him on the roster....how far up the list do people have to go for him to be on the roster of a very good team, playing 100 games, and only at 1b/DH?

my point is, why are we talking about this. Is Joe Mauer gonna hold the Twins at gun point forba one year 25 million dollar deal. Hell no, where have you been. If he can't perform he will go home from Florida and retire. Go ahead and try to replace him. He will give it all he's got just like he always has. He deserves a chance to make the team. He wouldn't ask for anything more. If he can stand playing for this front office any more.


He’s going to...what? Come to spring tng on a minor league deal? No guaranteed money?

It doesn’t work that way.
    • Mike Sixel likes this
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Channing1964
Sep 05 2018 08:54 PM
My bad you guys are exactly right. I am sure we'd be better off with some combination of Morrison, Austin(who couldnt even beat out Neil Walker out for the Yankees 1b job), Garver, and Kepler. I dont see the FO prepared for replacing the people they traded let alone being prepared to push Mauer out the door. I guess that's the answer to my question. They will do the worst, maddening, and unpopular thing available to them. so....bye Joe. 70-92 is prolly a good prediction for the 2019 Twindians.
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LA VIkes Fan
Sep 06 2018 09:31 AM

 

Is there anybody out there that really believes Joe Mauer doesn't deserve a chance to go to Spring Training and compete for a spot on the ROSTER?? After what hes done for us doesnt he DESERVE that? Assuming he wants to play baseball any more, would he ask for anything more than a chance to make the team. If you know Joe, and we do. He'll play for whatever they give him...and play well too. Nobody takes his spot unlessnhe let's em do it.

No one "deserves" a chance to go to Spring Training, everyone "earns" that chance. Being a baseball player for a successful team is like being an employee or officer in a successful business - you earn your right to stay every year, you don't just "deserve" one based on past contributions.

 

I think Mauer is playing well enough and we can project him to play well in enough in 2019 to have earned a chance to compete. Otheres disagree and quite properly point to the possibility that if his performance falls off the table, he may get the spot anyway because of the manager and even if that doesn't ahppen, he'll be hard to just waive. I think that risk is small and worth taking, especially in light of the present alternatives.

 

I am NOT saying Joe gets to stay because his given a lot to the team and thus "Deserves" to be bale to stay as long as he wants and determine his own timetable. That's the kind of thinking that got this team in trouble in the first place with Ryan. You earn your spot every year. nothing is given to you. 


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