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  • 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. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      If even a neurologist can't convince you then you're stubbornly ignoring medical evidence. What Mauer wants IS important. He's not an infant who needs to be protected from harm. He's an adult who can determine if he's willing to take a risk.
    1. Trev44's Avatar
      Trev44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Mod note: nice thread so far. The moderators will be taking a dim view of trolling, so keep up the good work.
      Not worth the money at any other position-plain and simple- zero power!
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by StormJH1 View Post
      Yeah, the idea that Mauer should go learn 3rd base in his Age 31 season is something out of fantasy baseball, video games, or whatever...but it isn't set in reality.
      Except for the reality that Josh Donaldson has done it cold turkey and is a plus defender, but not nearly the athlete that Mauer is.... and Joe Torre did it at age 30 virtually cold turkey and was the NL MVP......and Miguel Cabrera did it at 29 and was the AL MVP and Triple Crown winner.......and Killebrew.

      Donaldson and Cabrera are the #1 and #2 ranked 3rd baseman, and Donaldson ranks 3rd in WAR, with Cabrera #4 overall. Moving there to third opened up options for both clubs to putting more offense on the field. This is not that hard to delineate.

      And not only can Mauer hit well enough to play third, he would quite likely play it better for most of the entirety of the current contract, than any of the above names, and certainly far better than Plouffe or Sano. Makes a lot of sense to me. (BTW---Colabello returning for anything other than call-up fill-in duty next year would be absolutely shocking.)
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      It bugs me we feel we can completly bypass having a competent replacement. The proposals here basically are calling for us to go from one position at league average and one well above to one below and one average. And that's if Pinto is only bad defensively and not both.

      Just not a fan of that with no reliable alternative and no assurance it will extend his career.
      I don't think Pinto is bad offensively or defensively. He's no Pudge or anything, but he's a better hitter than either of the first base candidates. And the combination of him behind the plate and Mauer at first is a better defensive alignment than the combination of one of the first basemen and Mauer behind the plate.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Trev44 View Post
      Not worth the money at any other position-plain and simple- zero power!
      A .476 SLG is not zero power. It's among the best at his position. Further, his power is dampened at catcher. When he has fresh hands, it goes about .500, which is elite power.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      A .476 SLG is not zero power. It's among the best at his position. Further, his power is dampened at catcher. When he has fresh hands, it goes about .500, which is elite power.
      Not to mention that his money is moot since it's not keeping the Twins from spending.
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      Quote Originally Posted by YourHouseIsMyHouse View Post
      He's a Hall of Fame guy because of what he's done in the past AS A CATCHER. If he were a 1B his entire career he's not a Hall of Famer at this point. Is it really that hard to understand that 1B hit better than catchers?
      2013 Average OPS for 1B: .808
      2013 Average OPS for C (Excluding Mauer): .742

      Mauer's a career .873. His .880 this year is #1 for catchers. #6 for 1B.
      It is not hard to understand at all. I was clear on that before this thread was posted. You said, "He hardly has any value if you move him somewhere else." This I do not understand.

      Early in this thread I said, "His career hitting numbers vs the 1B numbers from the whole league this year would have him 1st in Avg, 2nd in OB% and 6th in OPS. Not to mention that I feel he could step in and contend strongly for a gold glove right away. I'll take it."

      If that makes him not a HOF player then that stinks but vs not playing due to injury I would prefer he spend most of his time at 1B putting up those numbers.
    1. KGB's Avatar
      KGB -
      [Besides the injury issue, you have to ask: Would the Twins be better with Mauer at first and Pinto behind the plate or Mauer behind the plate and Parmelee/Calobello at first? I think the former. As some have said, Mauer's wishes are irrelevant. Let's make the best team we can with what we have. And I have a hard time believing he wouldn't do what is in the team's best interest.[/QUOTE]

      Agree, the Twins need to do what's best for the team, not what make Mauer more likely to get voted into the HOF or what he wants. I'm sure he wants to win and keeping him on the field and making the best lineup is the best way to do that.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I don't think Pinto is bad offensively or defensively. He's no Pudge or anything, but he's a better hitter than either of the first base candidates. And the combination of him behind the plate and Mauer at first is a better defensive alignment than the combination of one of the first basemen and Mauer behind the plate.
      By all accounts Pinto has a long way to go defensively but is working hard, but hes still not nearly as good as Mauer. And i would address 1B in FA, finding an average to above average 1B in FA is easier and cheaper than maybe any other position.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      There are two things a third baseman has to do that a first baseman doesn't have to do.

      1) Make long throws across the diamond. I am 100% certain Mauer can do that.
      2) Charge bunts. That is an open question but Mauer can probably do it as well as A-Rod or Cabrera.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      By all accounts Pinto has a long way to go defensively but is working hard, but hes still not nearly as good as Mauer. And i would address 1B in FA, finding an average to above average 1B in FA is easier and cheaper than maybe any other position.
      I'm not convinced Pinto is that big of a downgrade from Mauer, especially with the tall catcher/low strike issue. Yes, he's a downgrade, but not huge. It comes down to risk/reward: The risk of losing your best player maybe forever vs. the small reward in improved defense. Plus I do think he's a better hitter when he doesn't catch, especially multiple games in a row.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I'm not convinced Pinto is that big of a downgrade from Mauer, especially with the tall catcher/low strike issue. Yes, he's a downgrade, but not huge. It comes down to risk/reward: The risk of losing your best player maybe forever vs. the small reward in improved defense. Plus I do think he's a better hitter when he doesn't catch, especially multiple games in a row.
      Like everyone, I 'm encouraged by what Pinto's done thus far, but it's very premature to seriously be contemplating ensconsing him behind the plate full-time next year. Just last night it was obvious for all to see that Albers and Pinto not only weren't on the same page, they were barely on the same planet in terms of pitch-by-pitch game-planning....and this wasn't the first time we'd seen this. As far as his bat, despite his heroics last night, his overall gaudy numbers are rapidly falling back to earth>>>>ie, his slash over the last 14 days: .244/.292/.444. It remains to be seen if he's a Parmelee/Lou Ford September mirage or the real thing. From what I've seen and read, he's a great kid who wants to learn and is willing to put in the work. At the plate, he uses all fields like an advanced major leaguer and the ball jumps off his bat, but to categorically say that in the Pinto/Mauer "What If?" equation that it's only a slight downgrade by going with Pinto is still very premature.


      Were you referring to Mauer or Pinto in your last sentence? Mauer defies convention, he's clearly better hitting when he catches. In 2013 he had a .330 BA and .901 OPS while catching////.286 BA .810 OPS @ 1st base////.319 BA .854 OPS @ DH. These numbers are similarly indicative of his career stats: .329 BA .889 OPS @ C////.324 BA .831 OPS @ 1st////.308 BA .828 OPS @ DH.

      If you meant Pinto, his 2013 minor league split between C and DH were virtually identical.
    1. by jiminy's Avatar
      by jiminy -
      Quote Originally Posted by IdahoPilgrim View Post
      I would be curious to hear from those who have advocated him remaining as catcher because of the greater difficulty of finding a catcher who can produce offensively than a first baseman. I wonder if the length of his being sidelined, which is far longer than most people were anticipating, has given them any pause.
      I'm one of those people, and yes, Nick just convinced me. This injury is a tipping point for me.

      I have always thought that what made Mauer uniquely valuable was the incredible offensive production he brought to a defensive position. It was almost like having an extra DH: Starting a batting champion at catcher, AND being able to park a slugger at first, is way more valuable than playing him at first. Moving Mauer to first means swapping a hitter like Butera for a hitter like Morneau. That drop off is so huge, I always thought you should drag out his catching as long as possible, or at least phase it out slowly.

      But this concussion changes everything. Once you have one this bad, you're primed for another. Even a small collision can reactivate symptoms. You saw it with Coskie and you saw it with Morneau. (Both of whom were Canadian, and presumably took a lot of shots to the head playing hockey, leaving them primed for further brain damage.) When you have as much invested in one player as you do in Mauer, it just makes taking that risk even more unthinkable. But the money is minor compared to the physical risks.

      It was almost worth moving him just to protect his knees, because of that long term contract. But now, playing catcher has become like putting a gun to his head. So to answer your question, yes, this column changed my mind.
    1. by jiminy's Avatar
      by jiminy -
      p.s. This scenario is exactly what made me gnash my teeth when they foolishly, foolishly traded Ramos. The idea that Ramos was expendable because we had Mauer was insane. He was indispensable BECAUSE we had Mauer. Mauer needed to be protected, and he couldn't be properly protected because if he didn't catch, you were stuck with Butera. Dumb, dumb trade.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      Earlier quote by me: "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?"

      Nick, you were an accurate predictor of reality. I apologize. Still, It's a sad day when a player with Mauer's tools hangs up his catching gear.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Don't Feed the Greed Guy View Post
      Earlier quote by me: "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?"
      At which point Mr. Nelson said that he would more or less tell a neurologist who cleared Mauer for catching duty to go stuff himself.

      It probably makes perfect sense to Nick to think way despite his having dismissively ridiculed people who were critical of the Twins' medical staff in 2012 because they were 'not doctors', but it doesn't to me.
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