Minnesota Twins News & Rumors Forum
  • Catching No Longer an Option For Mauer

    Exactly five weeks after he last played in a game, the Minnesota Twins announced on Monday that Joe Mauer would be shut down for the remainder of the season. The decision has seemed obvious and inevitable ever since it was revealed the catcher was still suffering symptoms weeks after sustaining a concussion while behind the plate.

    Ultimately, the incident will end up costing Mauer 39 games, or roughly a quarter of the season. In other words, this is a serious brain injury. The Twins have understandably tried to downplay the severity of the issue by insisting there have been no setbacks and stubbornly maintaining that he'd be back before season's end, but that's the reality we're facing.

    And here's another reality we must face: Mauer's days of catching are done.

    Despite major strides in recent years, we still don't know a whole lot about concussions. But here are a couple things we do know: they can be debilitating -- both professionally and personally -- and they are much more likely to be suffered by those with a history of having them before.

    The risk of Mauer experiencing another blow may not have been quite so worrisome had August's incident proven to be relatively minor, but that's far from the case. Five weeks after his brain was shaken by the fateful foul tip, Mauer still has not engaged in any baseball activities and still reports symptoms such as sensitivity to light and noise.

    Even if the complications clear up completely during the offseason and Mauer reports to spring training at 100 percent, there's still no way that a return to catching duties would be palatable. No position in baseball exposes the head to more frequent potential trauma than catcher, where batted balls to the mask and full-body collisions are part of the job description. Mauer is one of at least six backstops to be diagnosed with a concussion resulting from a foul tip this year, joining Detroit's Alex Avila, Kansas City's Salvador Perez, New York's Austin Romine, Houston's Carlos Corporan and Minnesota's own Ryan Doumit. If he ends up back at catcher, Mauer and Twins fans will live in a constant state of apprehension every time a ball is deflected back into his mask.

    Of course, the risk doesn't disappear if Mauer switches positions. Justin Morneau notably re-triggered his concussion symptoms when he made a diving attempt for a ball at first base more than a year after his July 2010 injury. But clearly the danger is far greater behind the plate at the game's most punishing position, one which has been mostly responsible for Mauer missing an average of 44 games per season in his career.

    Now, in fairness, I've been a proponent of moving Mauer away from catcher for two years, so I might be more predisposed to this conclusion than most. My original concern stemmed more from the condition of his legs than of his head, but these are both areas subjected to significant wear and tear.

    We know all too well how concussions can linger and relapse almost at random. We've seen it up close with Morneau and from afar with Corey Koskie, Jason Bay, Brian Roberts and countless others. Mauer, who will be integral to any return to contention within the next handful of years, is already going to be a sensitive enough case. Even without accounting for the percentage of payroll they dedicate to him, how can the Twins justify putting him back at a position where he's essentially guaranteed to take a jarring hit to the mask every other game, and maybe worse?

    I don't think they can, and with the precedent set by Morneau fresh in their minds, I suspect they know that. Posturing about the organization's intent to fulfill Mauer's wish of continuing to catch full-time is just that. He's too valuable to the franchise -- monetarily and otherwise -- for such an undeniably substantial risk.
    This article was originally published in blog: Catching No Longer an Option For Mauer started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 116 Comments
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      I am torn about moving Mauer to 1st. He has proven to be a good 1st baseman when playing there, but I like him better at catcher. I guess in the end I am fine either way but I was definitely in the camp to just keep him catching. Foul tip seemed like a bit of a freak thing to me. Can you get struck by lightning twice? He is valuable anywhere he plays and if Pinto can hit .260 or so and play decent defense then I guess that is OK.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Teflon View Post
      Arguments in the vein of "Mauer provides more value relative to the competition at catcher than he would at another position" only make sense if you're playing fantasy baseball. Since the Twins currently have a batting order featuring crap, crud, and flotsam Mauer's position change does nothing to weaken this team. It only weakens his chances of making future All-Star games.
      Of the 7 AL first basemen with 25 home runs or more, 2 (Davis and Carter) were acquired in minor trades, and 2 (Moss and Encarnacion) were initially cheap free agents. Trumbo was drafted in the 18th round. Only Dunn and Fielder cost their teams a ton of money (which the Twins will have anyway, and none of the 7 cost their team significant talent in a trade.

      Pinto has been a pleasant surprise so far, but seems pretty safe to assume that a good GM who's serious about contending ought to be able to find a first baseman who can outhit Pinto sometime between now and when the team becomes competitive again.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      As far as future position, I have always thought that Mauer should move to the outfield, specifically RF. He would have a tremendous arm and I have to believe his baseball instincts would really be valuable there. He might not be the fastest guy out there, but at 6-6 he would have lots of range and his arm would reduce bases against. If Chris Parmalee, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, and Josh Willingham were sent out into the outfield, often with comical results, there is almost no way possible for Joe Mauer to do any worse.
    1. CGNikolic's Avatar
      CGNikolic -
      This makes too much sense. Move him to 1B now and enjoy having a healthy, sweet-swinging Mauer for the rest of his contract. We won't be competing next year anyway so whoever plays catcher next year will be irrelevant to our success, so a stopgap (not Doumit please) to play there until Pinto is ready with Herrmann as the backup makes perfect sense. A future lineup with Pinto at catcher, Mauer at first, Rosario at second base, Dozier/Santana/Goodrum/Polanco/Florimon at shortstop and Sano at third makes for a great infield in my book. The key to all of this though, is Mauer willing to make this move? Permanently?
    1. Teflon's Avatar
      Teflon -
      Quote Originally Posted by LaBombo View Post
      Pinto has been a pleasant surprise so far, but seems pretty safe to assume that a good GM who's serious about contending ought to be able to find a first baseman who can outhit Pinto sometime between now and when the team becomes competitive again.
      Actually the GM will need to find a 1B who can outhit Mauer - not Pinto - since Pinto still ends up catching when Mauer takes another one off the noggin back there.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      As far as future position, I have always thought that Mauer should move to the outfield, specifically RF. He would have a tremendous arm and I have to believe his baseball instincts would really be valuable there. He might not be the fastest guy out there, but at 6-6 he would have lots of range and his arm would reduce bases against. If Chris Parmalee, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, and Josh Willingham were sent out into the outfield, often with comical results, there is almost no way possible for Joe Mauer to do any worse.
      I've been thinking the same thing. I guess it depends on who makes up the rest of the roster, but it seems possible that leads to a better defensive team next year than with him at 1st, as the prime candidates to man the corners right now might be Willingham and Arcia, neither of whom looks particularly good defensively. Of course this leads to needing to fill 1B with a legitimate hitter, but that seems doable.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I'm still in the boat of playing him at catcher until it's obvious he can't physically handle it anymore. But during these lean years when we are awful I'd like to see them scale it back considerably to protect him for the long run.
      Here's the problem with waiting "until it's obvious he can't handle it anymore." That means you're waiting until he has another concussion, and that could easily be the one that ends Joe Mauer's career.

      When I was about ten years old, I got hit in the head with a hard-thrown baseball. I was pitching batting practice, and the guy in center field decided to show off his great arm by throwing it all the way back to me...while I was throwing another pitch to a batter.

      I remember this: "Look out!"

      "Wha---?"

      A couple minutes later, the lights gradually came back on. I was done with baseball for that day.

      Of course, that ball was probably going only about fifty miles per hour, but it hit me directly in the back of the skull. Pitches hitting Joe Mauer in the head are traveling 90mph or faster, blows that deliver far more energy than the ball that hit me. I've seen him get hit by three or more shots like that in one game.

      A concussion is not like a bruise on your arm. It's more like damage to the delicate wiring that allows you to think and perform coordinated activities like running, throwing, hitting, and playing catch with your kids. Healing the damage to that wiring is a tricky business, and sadly, it doesn't always heal completely.

      I don't want Joe Mauer to be forced out of baseball because of concussions, not like Corey Koskie was. I would much rather see him play 1st base or right field for another decade, maybe win another batting title, than see him get beat up even more behind the plate, especially when good defensive catchers aren't that hard to find. Move him out of there now, so we can watch Joe's beautiful swing for many more years.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      I think the Twins should keep Mauer behind the plate for the entirety of his career. He doesn't want to move and he shouldn't. He hardly has any value if you move him somewhere else. You all think this concussion thing is a big deal, but guess what? It's just as likely at any other position. Corey Koskie and Justin Morneau both got them. In your 30s, anything can ruin your career and I just don't see a significant risk reduction that offsets team value. I like Pinto a lot and I think he'll be a good player, but I wouldn't move Mauer just because of team depth. This is a HOF career guy and keeping him at catcher gives him more potential to seal the deal. Plus, I don't like the Twins paying 23 million for a slightly above average first baseman instead of an elite catcher.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      OK seriously, people need to stop with the drama. I get the Mauer is a high paid asset. He's also paid high because he's a catcher, and a month of Pinto against September pitching is not going to change my mind, nor should it change anyone else's, that Mauer is first and foremost a catcher and the team's primary catcher at that.

      I have no problems with them having a guy like Doumit or Pinto that can allow Mauer to spend time DHing or playing 1st, but his value is tied to being a catcher, and the success of the Twins next wave is going to largely depend on him being able to catch fairly consistently.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      Move him out of there now, so we can watch Joe's beautiful swing for many more years.
      I understand your point, but if he is that susceptible to another concussion it won't matter where we play him. The day may come when we protect him by moving him, but I don't think a switch made out of fear now, with no definitive replacement, sets this team back even further than it already is.
    1. D. Hocking's Avatar
      D. Hocking -
      I am leaning towards that it is time to make the move to first. I was kind of hoping he would get a couple more years as at least a part time catcher, but I think his window is closing, and the concussion does change my perception of what he should do.

      However, I suspect (unless worst case scenario he still has symptoms in six months) he will do some catching next year, despite what some of the talking heads on the radio are predicting. On a petty note, one of the radio personalities, who I generally like but can be a bit smug and is act more like his opinion is the only worthwhile opinion (I guess that could be a few people...), I would not mind seeing his melt-down if he is wrong on this.
    1. jm3319's Avatar
      jm3319 -
      Quote Originally Posted by YourHouseIsMyHouse View Post
      I think the Twins should keep Mauer behind the plate for the entirety of his career. He doesn't want to move and he shouldn't. He hardly has any value if you move him somewhere else. You all think this concussion thing is a big deal, but guess what? It's just as likely at any other position. Corey Koskie and Justin Morneau both got them. In your 30s, anything can ruin your career and I just don't see a significant risk reduction that offsets team value. I like Pinto a lot and I think he'll be a good player, but I wouldn't move Mauer just because of team depth. This is a HOF career guy and keeping him at catcher gives him more potential to seal the deal. Plus, I don't like the Twins paying 23 million for a slightly above average first baseman instead of an elite catcher.
      So a guy who usually is among league leaders in OBP, batting average, and OPS has "hardly any value"? That's shocking news to me. Please tell me, what exactly makes a player valuable if being really good at hitting a baseball and getting on base doesn't mean "value" to you? And don't say "he's overpaid" because the Twins have tons of payroll space and can cover the $23 million, no question.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      Nick,

      I tend to enjoy and agree with your articles. Not this time. You write, "And here's another reality we must face: Mauer's days of catching are done."

      Reality? Are you sure you want to name reality as a columnist/blogger, or would you be willing to defer to a neurologist? Not all concussions are alike. If Mauer is medically cleared to catch--just as football players are routinely medically cleared to return to full contact--why shouldn't he go back behind the plate?

      As Twins fans, we have reason to be wary. Morneau and Cory Koskie are both cautionary examples of worst case scenarios. But even you admit that we just don't know much about concussions.

      I'm glad that the Twins shut Mauer down. It makes perfect sense at the tail end of a 90 loss season. There was no need to rush him back. But if his doctors, his wife, his general manager, and his conscience tell him to catch again next spring--that's Mauer's reality. I will wait to hear that verdict. Until then, keep up the good insights Nick--even though I disagree with this one.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy,

      Really? The centerpiece of the franchise suffers a conclusion a few weeks ago that is still clouding his experience, the Twins have recent experience with a complete Morneau meltdown, and yet moving him to first base isn't the OBVIOUS choice here? Mauer should be the third catcher. Moving him to first base is not the end of the world and, by the way, none of the other positions even make sense . . . 3B, RF, LF . . . all totally not worth considering. When Kennys Vargas and Dalton Hicks are truly knocking at the door, then considerations can be made. The WAR hit is legit, but it is mitigated by good performers at the catcher position and by replacing other pieces in the roster.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Moving him to first base is not the end of the world and, by the way, none of the other positions even make sense . . . 3B, RF, LF . . . all totally not worth considering.
      In light of the fact that other posters stated their beliefs that RF might make sense, this is somewhat inflammatory. It would be better to preface something like this with IMO or IMHO so as to be more respectful. How would you feel if someone said moving him to 1B is "totally not worth considering" without giving any analysis of why they believe that.

      Let's keep the debate lively, but with respect for other points of view.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      I haven't been advocating one way or the other. I get that Mauer's value is higher when behind the plate but we knew the amount of time there would always diminish.

      Question, though: there was always interest among some fans in Mauer going to 3rd instead of 1st. Do we now find that to be an impossibility? Has he aged out of playing 3B? Are we so sure that Sano will be at 3rd that we aren't even interested in trying Mauer there?
      Joe Torre went to 3rd at the age of 30, and played 161 games at the position despite barely having played there ever before (just 73 games the previous year), and oh, BTW, he won the NL MVP award. We all know about Killebrew and Cabrera, so no, definitely not impossible, IMO, it should be the Twins first option for consideration. Moving Sano to an easier position would make his transition to the major leagues that much smoother.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy,

      Really? The centerpiece of the franchise suffers a conclusion a few weeks ago that is still clouding his experience, the Twins have recent experience with a complete Morneau meltdown, and yet moving him to first base isn't the OBVIOUS choice here? Mauer should be the third catcher. Moving him to first base is not the end of the world and, by the way, none of the other positions even make sense . . . 3B, RF, LF . . . all totally not worth considering. When Kennys Vargas and Dalton Hicks are truly knocking at the door, then considerations can be made. The WAR hit is legit, but it is mitigated by good performers at the catcher position and by replacing other pieces in the roster.








      I don't see your "mitigating good performers" at catcher. Pinto has gotten a great start to his major league career, but 23 games doesn't make him a shoo-in for 2014 (remember Parmelee 2 Septembers ago?). It looks like the "the book" is already identifying how to attack his hitting weaknesses- and he's definitely a work in progress behind the plate.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      The Mauer to 3B thing never made sense, and it was never something given and credence by the Twins or by Mauer...
      It's made a lot of sense and has gained a lot of credence in Oakland. Josh Donaldson is tied for the WAR lead among 3rd basemen with Miguel Cabrera at 7.7WAR- and that 7.7 WAR is the third-best WAR total in all of baseball. Much, much, much less chance for concussions, seems to make a lot of sense to me to strongly consider moving Mauer there for the majority of his games next year.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      How about this angle...

      Joe Mauer likes to catch. He's an elite athlete who turned down a potential career as a professional quarterback in order to play catcher. It's what he likes to do, and he has done so at the highest level for the last ten years. There is no position in baseball like being behind the plate, calling the game.

      Mauer is not a cage rattling, fiery personality. He has a low key, understated quality, especially when interacting with the media. But he has been very outspoken regarding his desire to catch next year. Again, here's Mauer in his own words, three days ago, taken from an article by Tyler Mason of FSN:

      "Mauer reiterated Monday that he still wants to catch.

      "I have every intention of coming back and catching," Mauer said. "That's what I do. But right now I have to take care of this situation so I can. I look forward to getting out on the field next year as a catcher and whatever else they need me to do."

      Catching is what Joe Mauer does. He likes to catch. He wants to catch, and he will catch if his mind and body allow it. Previous posters say, "move him to first base. Try him at third." Yes, the positions of Koskie and Morneau. Playing those postions sure protected those two from concussions... Hey, the man thinks he can catch at a high level for a few more years. He's good at it, and it sounds like the general manager is supporting him, saying things like, "that's his position." Let the man do what he wants to do. In this case, he wants to catch.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I don't know if having concussions qualifies me to have an opinion on them. But I have been through this several times, and I can't imagine catching after a severe concussion. I had to stop cycling after one because it caused me to get tentative and to second guess when in dangerous situations. It is so traumatic and debilitating that you subconsciously will do anything to avoid it ever happening again.

      Those who have caught before know the hardest thing to get over is not flinching when someone swings. This will be doubly hard now that Mauer has had a serious brain injury. Minor ones like the one Doumit had this year aren't debilitating in the way seveer ones are. I would be surprised if he's even able to catch after this. I would be shocked if he tries it again.
©2014 TwinsCentric, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in advertising with Twins Daily? Click here.