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Max Kepler: Trade or Keep?

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Article: Twins Daily Roundtable: Grading the Front Office

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Minnesota and Mauer Facing Important 2018

In the season ahead, Joe Mauer may be looking at one of the most important campaigns of his entire career. Yes, he’s got three batting titles and an MVP to his name, but it’s 2018 that has some very real story lines awaiting their resolution. What will Mauer bring to the table? Will he be back? Should the Twins want him? All are very real questions, and the answers could go a long way to cementing the living legend’s legacy.
Image courtesy of © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
At first base, Joe Mauer has reinvented himself on the diamond. Despite being an offensive juggernaut behind the dish, he was also more than adept with the glove. After the brain injury forced him into a new role, he very nearly grabbed his first Gold Glove at a new position a year ago (and deserved to win). That progression at first base has a four year arc now, and it’s worth speculating what’s to come in the year ahead.

Across just over 1,000 innings a season ago, Mauer posted career bests in DRS (7), UZR (7.1), RngR (3.9), and UZR/150 (9.1). He came in as better than virtually every first baseman not named Brandon Belt in all categories, and his 61.5% conversion rate on plays with an expected success rate of 10-40% paced MLB first basemen. In short, his 4th year was his best at the new position, and despite being 34 years-old, he didn’t appear to be slowing in the field.

When stepping into the batter’s box, things followed a similar narrative a year ago. His .801 OPS was a high water mark dating back to 2013, and the .305 AVG was the first time rising above that plateau since the same season. After dipping to a .267 AVG and .733 OPS over the past three seasons, Mauer had rebounded nicely.
Getting in 141 games for Paul Molitor last season, Mauer continued to be a cornerstone of a team that made a postseason run, and kept things interesting in the AL Central. He’s played at least 130 games each of the past three seasons, and has played 140 or more twice. It’s reasonable, and also visible, that Mauer is better with regular rest, but also not hard to see that he’s capable of producing on more than a rotational basis.

For 2018, there are a couple of reasons to dissect the notes above. In relation to his defense, a Gold Glove could go a long ways toward putting a final stamp on his Cooperstown resume. Mauer would be only the third player ever to win the award at two positions, and he’d be the first catcher to do so. The resume could also be bolstered by another high-average season, something that holds less weight in the game but has long been a hat-hanging opportunity for the Minnesota native.

Outside of personal gain, there’s also plenty to take away from where both the Twins and Joe go from here. On the last year of his 8yr./$184m. deal, both sides will have a decision to make prior to the 2019 season. For Mauer, it will come down to whether or not he wants to continue playing at the age of 36. Minnesota will be positioned to easily accommodate a short-term deal, at a significantly reduced rate, and the evaluation of how the player fits will likely determine the extent of the offer.

In the current competitive window, the season ahead should also help to paint a picture of how integral Mauer may be as the Twins look to dive deep into the postseason. Although Miguel Sano is probably destined for first base at some point, will the defensive downgrade be immediately worth transitioning to? Is Kennys Vargas going to be a part of the equation, or will Brent Rooker be given a look? Contingency plans will have to be evaluated as Mauer, whether returning or not, is in a position to begin the transition to his eventual replacement.

In short, the 2018 Twins have plenty of intrigue coming off of a season that saw them kick down the door to the winning ways that lie ahead. On an individual level however, Mauer may be among the most must monitored names in the 162 games that lie ahead. It’s been 14 years of watching what amounts to a living legend, and Minnesota fans may not see something as good as Mauer has been for quite some time. Keeping an eye on what indicators tell us is next will be can’t-miss viewing all season long.

No matter how the story ends, the chapters with Joe Mauer in a Minnesota Twins uniform have been a great read. If 2017 is any indicator, planning the epilogue right now may be a bit premature. Molitor and the 25-man need Joe, and if 2018 trends in the same direction as a year ago, Twins Territorians are in for a treat again.

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55 Comments

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LeatherAntenna
Feb 15 2018 09:16 PM
I generally like your story except for two phrases. Offensive ‘juggernaut’? No that’s Walt Disney imagination. An impressive single hitting machine, clutch hitter, great reader of pitches, yes. Juggernaut- not so much. ‘Living Legend’? No, again a long reach. He will be remembered for a long time, Minnesota boy and all. But he has done almost nothing in playoff ball and that just makes his story a great Saturday afternoon matinee.
    • Thrylos, KGB, jud6312 and 1 other like this

My feeling is that Joe will not be back.Twins have too many potential 1B types and Joe is going to want more money than the Twins want to pay.It could work if he wants $3 - 5 million a year in a transition year, but do not see him going much beyond next year here.

It could be Jake Mauer saw this and it was one of the (unspoken) reasons he left the organization.

I agree with everything LeatherAntenna had to say on this. I’m a Mauer fan. I think he’s been judged too harshly, but “living legend” and “offensive juggernaut” are unnecessary hyperbole.

I’d love to see the Twins sign him to another year at $6-8M, but I bought tickets for the season finale today because I don’t expect we’ll see him in a Twins uniform past 2018.

Great career, but not legendary.
    • KGB, IndyTwinsFan and jud6312 like this
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KirbyDome89
Feb 15 2018 09:52 PM

I hope he's back. I don't think Vargas is any sort of long term solution, and if the interest in Napoli is any indication it doesn't look like the FO sees him in that role either.  

 

I'm excited about Rooker but he also hasn't seen a pitch at AA yet, and as far as I know he's still capable of holding down a corner OF spot. If Mauer is on the roster Rooker could still be a great RH platoon 4th OF/DH bat which the Twins currently need.

 

I wouldn't let Mauer go because Sano has to eventually slide to 1B. If Miguel shows he can't handle 3B this season and Mauer has another good year it doesn't make any sense to hurt your defense (Sano at 1B) and potentially your offense (depending on who replaces Mauer's bat) when Sano could just as easily slide into the full time DH role. Granted, there are a lot of "ifs," in that scenario but it isn't inconceivable that Sano struggles defensively and Mauer has another good season further removed from the concussions.

 

If last season was Mauer digging his way out that concussion black hole he could be extremely valuable for the next few years. Admittedly I'm a fan. He has the plate discipline and swing that can play well even as he continues to age. The guy is a professional hitter and a great defender. It would be nice if he was a Twin for life. 

    • Twins33, mikelink45, DocBauer and 4 others like this

I don't know - he seems pretty wild and reckless if this is how he behaves - someone is going to get hurt.

 

If he can have a season similar to last year, I would like to see him play a couple of more years for a reasonable price.I suspect he will retire if he does not continue with the Twins, but you never know.If he still wants to play and it had to be with another team,I would not begrudge him it, but it would seem wrong to see him in another uniform.

 

Time flies, it does not seem that long ago he was the young kid on the team.I amnot sure I appreciated how young he was at the time.I remember when Casilla was new to the team, they were talking about the ups and downs of a young player, and I realized Mauer was only a year or two older than him, but was already considered an experienced veteran and had been for awhile.

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    • slash129, Vanimal46 and bighat like this
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ScooterDance
Feb 15 2018 11:48 PM
He was one of the best offensive catchers to ever play the game. At most I’ll grant you that “offensive juggernaut” _might_ need to be qualified with “as a catcher”

But that’s as far as I’d go.
    • Mike Frasier Law likes this
I've seen on other threads that people want to sign him to an extension. If I'm not mistaken the Twins have to offer at least 80% of his current salary to sign him to an extension (Or 18.4 million). Obviously that's a bit too high so he will reach FA and then the balls in his court. I'm ok with a competitive offer under say seven million but ultimately he will know the direction of the team best and either 1) re sign with the Twins. 2 ) retire. 3) play elsewhere

 

I've seen on other threads that people want to sign him to an extension. If I'm not mistaken the Twins have to offer at least 80% of his current salary to sign him to an extension (Or 18.4 million). Obviously that's a bit too high so he will reach FA and then the balls in his court. I'm ok with a competitive offer under say seven million but ultimately he will know the direction of the team best and either 1) re sign with the Twins. 2 ) retire. 3) play elsewhere

He was worth over 16M last year.Hopefully he does as well this year or even better.An offer of less than 7M wouldn't cut it, IMO.

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diehardtwinsfan
Feb 16 2018 07:42 AM

hope he does well. That said, it would be a lot easier to keep him around if he could play some 3rd and RF. I'd imagine 3rd would be easy to transition to, and we know he has the arm for it... RF might take more practice, but if he could move around the diamond a bit, it would certainly make a ton more sense to trade a guy like Kepler...

 

I don't know why the Twins haven't done this with him. It only adds value to him, and I'm not one to believe that his offense suffered the last few years b/c he was learning a new position.

 

I generally like your story except for two phrases. Offensive ‘juggernaut’? No that’s Walt Disney imagination. An impressive single hitting machine, clutch hitter, great reader of pitches, yes. Juggernaut- not so much. ‘Living Legend’? No, again a long reach. He will be remembered for a long time, Minnesota boy and all. But he has done almost nothing in playoff ball and that just makes his story a great Saturday afternoon matinee.

 

There are 11 Hall of Famers who never played in a postseason game, led by Ernie Banks. Was he not good because he never made the playoffs?

 

Basketball is a fair sport to judge a player by playoffs because one player can drag a team to the playoffs (see Westbrook last year). Baseball is a team game - one player can't drag a team to the playoffs. The Twins with Mauer have never underachieved in the playoffs - they've never been a huge favorite that fell apart. They've lost some close games over the years and that's tough but that's baseball.

 

Joe Mauer is a top 3 MN Twin of all time with Killebrew and Carew. You can argue #1 convincingly but I go with Killebrew. 

 

I generally like your story except for two phrases. Offensive ‘juggernaut’? No that’s Walt Disney imagination. An impressive single hitting machine, clutch hitter, great reader of pitches, yes. Juggernaut- not so much. ‘Living Legend’? No, again a long reach. He will be remembered for a long time, Minnesota boy and all. But he has done almost nothing in playoff ball and that just makes his story a great Saturday afternoon matinee.

 

This is off topic but interesting to think about that word. A juggernaut is a huge, powerful and overpowering force. The only baseball position player I can remember who hit that level would be Barry Bonds. Trout, Harper and Pujols all came pretty close but only Bonds physically altered the game that way.

 

Pitcher gets more interesting. A pitcher has so much more control over an individual game. I think you could find some juggernaut stretches - Kershaw, Arrieta, Verlander, Gooden etc.

 

Other sports juggernaut works better for. LeBron and MJ definitely hit that level regularly. Football QBs certainly seem that way sometimes - Brees, Brady, Manning, Rogers get the ball late and you just know they're driving the field.

Okay, we don't need to get into semantics here, but I'd say a .365/.444/.587 line in 2009 is pretty good offensive numbers. And .327/.429/.507 in 2006 ain't bad either. We've gotten used to old, post-concussion Joe Mauer, and I think we forget that he was one of the best hitters in the game for several years, and at the toughest position.

    • Deduno Abides and Nine of twelve like this

I would love to see Mauer continue to rise and demonstrate that those poor years were all concussion caused, but I am skeptical of whether he can do it.In someways, his Minnesotan attitude has hurt him too.Unlike Hunter and the gang that the FO signed to be the cheerleaders and veteran leadership, Mauer does not fit into that category, he just has that "Lake Wobegon" personality.

 

If he applies himself he could go until 40, the real question is whether he contributes what the FO thinks we need.He will go to FA because we cannot afford the contract at 80% of his current and I question what his value would be on the market when I look at this years FA market.Will they bring him back - I am about 50-50 right now.

 

Joe Mauer is a top 3 MN Twin of all time with Killebrew and Carew. You can argue #1 convincingly but I go with Killebrew. 

Kirby Puckett called...with his two world championships, his WS MVP, his 6 gold gloves, and his seven seasons with top-7 finishes in MVP voting...

 

He said he wished he had taken more walks.

    • USAFChief, Mr. Brooks, KGB and 5 others like this

 

Okay, we don't need to get into semantics here, but I'd say a .365/.444/.587 line in 2009 is pretty good offensive numbers. And .327/.429/.507 in 2006 ain't bad either. We've gotten used to old, post-concussion Joe Mauer, and I think we forget that he was one of the best hitters in the game for several years, and at the toughest position.

 

This. Mid-20's Mauer was a monster. 3 batting titles before he was 27 as a catcher! half his career he's hit over .300 Last season was a heck of a rebound and if he can do it again and finally get his deserved Gold Glove...he'd be a heck of an asset again. Certainly worth keeping around if he wants to stay.

 

Mauer was a HoFer in my mind before last season, because he was such a great catcher. Adding in a few additional seasons like last year just cement his place in history. But he's a truly great player.

    • Nine of twelve likes this
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RegularJoe62
Feb 16 2018 12:01 PM

I enjoy seeing all the suggested contracts for a 1B with gold glove level defense batting over 300. Yeah, loads of those guys available for under five or six mil. 

 

There are 11 Hall of Famers who never played in a postseason game, led by Ernie Banks. Was he not good because he never made the playoffs?

 

Basketball is a fair sport to judge a player by playoffs because one player can drag a team to the playoffs (see Westbrook last year). Baseball is a team game - one player can't drag a team to the playoffs. The Twins with Mauer have never underachieved in the playoffs - they've never been a huge favorite that fell apart. They've lost some close games over the years and that's tough but that's baseball.

 

Joe Mauer is a top 3 MN Twin of all time with Killebrew and Carew. You can argue #1 convincingly but I go with Killebrew. 

Mauer also has better post-season numbers than HOFer Carew over only 40 and 50 at-bats, respectively. Mauer has a .275 DA, with a .341 OBP. Underrating a career for near average production in just a handful of post-season games is overrated. That said, clutch hitting in the post-season is certainly a big positive. For that reason, Puckett has to be right there with Mauer, Puckett, and Killebrew.

    • jimmer likes this
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John Bonnes
Feb 16 2018 02:34 PM

I'm interested to see how Mauer reacts to a contract year. That's never happened before. (Unless you want to count his first three years on the team, when, I suppose, the Twins could have cut him if they wanted to. But that would've been ludicrous.)Once he finished his "serf" years, he signed a four-year deal that bought out his first free agent year. Then he signed his big deal with a year left on that deal (and right after his MVP season). So this year is unique to his career. 

 

One of the underlying knocks against Mauer by his critics is that he's resistant to change. A free agent year certainly encourage a player to raise their level and show some new skills. If Mauer is able to do some of the things his critics say he should be able to do (pull the ball, swing at the first pitch, hit with power, lead in the clubhouse), one would thing the incentive to do so would be raised a bit this year. 

Love Maker's defense. The overall improvement offensively speaks to me, considering his past numbers, as a return to better health further removed from his concussions vs a sudden abberation near the end of his career.

He does still need to show himself again this season. I have no problem with 2 years at $8-10M. I can understand a bump there due to service time, etc. The Twins could make it happen, AND re-sign Dozier and still cut payroll between the two of them. (Which I've previously stated)
Mauer's defense! Darn phone!
He was a great player. Now? If they can't afford to sign pitching, they can't afford to keep an ok first baseman.
    • TheLeviathan, Danchat, Sconnie and 1 other like this

 

Kirby Puckett called...with his two world championships, his WS MVP, his 6 gold gloves, and his seven seasons with top-7 finishes in MVP voting...

 

He said he wished he had taken more walks.

Kirby was never WS MVP but I get the genesis of your points.Joe has been a very good player over the course of his career.Did he have some not so spectacular years by the high bar he set yes he did.Like Morneau it would have been nice to see how he would have played without suffering the concussion(s) throughout his career.

 

Kirby was never WS MVP but I get the genesis of your points.Joe has been a very good player over the course of his career.Did he have some not so spectacular years by the high bar he set pre-concussion yes he did.Like Morneau it would have been nice to see how he would have played without suffering the concussion(s) throughout his career.I was 10 back in '87.I loved Kirby, cried like a baby when he passed away.Kirby put the Twins and Minnesota sports on the map in the era when Sportscenter was really growing in popularity.Think 'Kirby Union Gap Puckett' copyright Chris Berman.One last point I think too many people get caught up in Mauer's contract.No one in their right mind would have turned down the money that was offered to him.The Twins generally are looking at ROI.Have they signed FA players recently that haven't panned out yes.Every team misses on those from time to time.But we all know they look at the bottom line more often than not.They clearly thought it was a wise investment at the time given the circumstances.WIN TWINS!

 

 

I say that with a great Kirby quote on my posts. 

Joe has been a huge positive for the Twins over the years. Show him some respect and sign him up again. In my estimation his down years were the results of concussions. I could see Joe hit .310 with a .400 on base %. Win a Gold Glove. Hello Cooperstown! Not my money but, 3 years @ $50 million. LET'S GO JOE!
    • bighat likes this

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