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  • Finding Mauer's Replacement: Part 1

    I'm not a doctor. I didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Nonetheless, it's been clear to me for some time that Joe Mauer was destined for a permanent move away from catcher after concussion issues cost him a quarter of his 2013 season. There was simply no way that continuing to expose the organization's most valuable asset to the heightened risk of head trauma behind the plate was going to be acceptable, no matter how well his offseason recovery went.

    On Monday, the Twins made official what has been apparent for months: Mauer is now a first baseman.

    Already here at Twins Daily, Parker has shared manager Ron Gardenhire's thoughts on the announcement and Cody has examined some of the ripple effects that will stem from Mauer's relocation. Both articles are well worth checking out.

    Here I'm going to break down the challenge the Twins now face, one that at this time last year they likely felt was nowhere near. For the first time in 12 seasons, they need to find an answer at catcher.

    When the Twins signed Mauer to a $184 million contract in 2010, the hope was they would be covered behind the plate for the next eight years. Of course, that was never a particularly realistic hope, considering the history of full-time catchers aging into their 30s. Looking back, when you account for the numerous lower-body ailments faced by Mauer over the course of a career that started with a severe knee injury, it may be that he was lucky to last as long as he did.

    Now, the organization sets upon the task of finding his successor -- an unwelcome distraction with the rotation in need of so much attention. Josmil Pinto is the obvious choice following a hugely impressive audition in September, but I wouldn't assume that he'll enter spring training as a lock -- or even a favorite -- to be the starter.

    During his interview for the Offseason Handbook a few weeks back, Terry Ryan was guarded in his comments about Pinto. When Parker started a question about the rookie backstop with "Pinto had a great first month of his big-league career," Ryan interjected: "Not great." The two eventually settled on "solid."

    There wasn't much not to like about Pinto's offensive performance: In 83 plate appearances, he hit .342/.398/.566 while showing decent plate discipline, driving the ball to all fields and repeatedly coming up with huge hits.

    Plainly, Ryan isn't convinced the 24-year-old is fully developed in the many vital aspects of catching: calling games, framing pitches, controlling the run game and the like. It's understandable given that Pinto essentially skipped Triple-A on his way to the big leagues. The GM showed little long-term concern, stating that Pinto's flaws are "gonna be workable" and adding that he is "very coachable."

    In the meantime, the Twins will surely seek a contingency plan for the possibility Pinto demonstrates in March he still needs work. No strong candidates exist within the system, as Ryan Doumit is no one's idea of a regular catcher, Chris Herrmann is a replacement level talent and 2013 third-round pick Stuart Turner -- who may be on the fast track as a college draftee with an advanced skill set -- is still at least a couple years away.

    There is little doubt that the Twins will venture into the free agent market to find an established player who can serve as at least a short-term solution. Already the club has been connected to multiple names. Later this week, I'll take a look at some of the likely candidates, each of whom could fit in a different way.
    This article was originally published in blog: Finding Mauer's Replacement: Part 1 started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 36 Comments
    1. pierre75275's Avatar
      pierre75275 -
      Im in the group that likes signing AJ. AJ can catch 3 days a week Pinto can catch the others. Trade Doumit sell low.
    1. chuchadoro's Avatar
      chuchadoro -
      Mauer is the Twins' best player, I wouldn't call him their most valuable asset. Age, contract, and position all factor into the value of a player. It's a minor point but I've seen that phrase used a few times recently regarding Mauer. The most valuable assets the Twins have don't play for the Twins yet.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I'm in the group that likes the idea of not bothering with at most a 1-win difference in signing some catcher for millions of bucks and instead putting that money towards signing a better pitcher. 2014 is a joke. We have to admit that. It won't be a joke in terms of actually WATCHING the Twins if they decide to A: Get some quality pitching via free agency, and B: go with the youth movement in general.

      I will resign myself to some total farce of a lineup involving Willingham, Doumit, and Presley. And it seems possible that Fryer is involved in this too, unless the Twins "score" AJ or someone like that. I means it's totally absurd to not just trade these aging, no future, players away (Willingham and Doumit, and pay much of the salary to trade them away for mid-level prospects) immediately, but that is not how it is going to work.

      I see a real possibility that the lineup looks like this opening day:

      Presley, CF
      Dozier, 2B
      Mauer, 1B
      Willingham, LF
      Doumit, DH
      Plouffe, 3B
      Parmelee, RF
      Fryer, C
      Florimon SS

      And I am not kidding. Spots 1, 4, 5, and 8 occupied by players who are not going to be relevant for the future.

      The idea that some people seem to have involves:

      A: wins in 2014 are important because, hey, maybe the Twins . . . (make the playoffs or something????)

      B: The youth movement must be delayed, because . . . (well that involves A).

      C: It is GUARANTEED that playing aging, declining veterans is going to bring about more wins in 2014 than playing prospects and other viable minor leaguers.

      I would call garbage on that. A lineup vs. righties of:


      Dozier, 2B
      Mauer, 1B
      Arcia, DH
      Parmelee, RF
      Plouffe, 3B
      Hicks, CF
      Pinto/Herrmann C
      Presley LF
      Florimon SS

      and vs. lefties:

      Hicks, CF
      Dozier, 2B
      Mauer, 1B
      Plouffe, DH
      Pinto, C
      Romero, 3B
      Arcia, RF
      Presley, LF
      Florimon, SS

      (bench: Herrmann, Colabello, Escobar, Romero)

      Works for me. It works because it is utilizing players in real ways to maximize their potential. It works because there are holes to be filled by prospects like Sano, Rosario, and Buxton. It works because the actual win-loss in 2014 is unclear in terms of favoring millions spent on players vs. hundreds of thousands spent on players already in the system. It works because developing the core is the primary concern, but developing the role players around the core is secondarily necessary and so 2015 has to be in mind. It works because the money saved can be put to good use.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Think about this possible vs. LH/RH lineup situation if all goes according to Shane's plan in 2014:

      vs. LH

      Hicks, LF
      Mauer, 1B
      Buxton, CF
      Sano, 3B
      Plouffe, DH
      Pinto, C
      Dozier, SS
      Arcia, RF
      Rosario, 2B

      And vs. RH:

      Rosario, 2B
      Mauer, 1B
      Arcia, DH
      Sano, 3B
      Buxton, CF
      Hicks, LF
      Parmelee, RF
      Pinto/Herrmann C
      Dozier, SS
    1. Zephrin's Avatar
      Zephrin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Think about this possible vs. LH/RH lineup situation if all goes according to Shane's plan in 2014:

      vs. LH

      Hicks, LF
      Mauer, 1B
      Buxton, CF
      Sano, 3B
      Plouffe, DH
      Pinto, C
      Dozier, SS
      Arcia, RF
      Rosario, 2B

      And vs. RH:

      Rosario, 2B
      Mauer, 1B
      Arcia, DH
      Sano, 3B
      Buxton, CF
      Hicks, LF
      Parmelee, RF
      Pinto/Herrmann C
      Dozier, SS
      Gardenhire seems to value stability over matching up left vs. right. I'm not sure he would entertain switching people's spots in the batting order that much based on the handedness of the pitcher.

      Also, I don't think I've seen any indication the Twins are entertaining Dozier at SS. Is that a real possibility, or simply a creative way to get both Dozier and Rosario on the field together?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I'd bet they sign a veteran catcher for $1-4MM, and that he and Pinto share time.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      I'd bet they sign a veteran catcher for $1-4MM, and that he and Pinto share time.
      That's my thinking as well. And I'm okay with that. Ease Pinto into the situation and see if he can hold on to a spot in the lineup. If not, fall back to Doumit (ugh) for back-up catching duties.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      Some thoughts:

      1. The trend in the Twins organization appears to be the development of players such as Chris Herrmann and Dan Rohlfing who bring two or three gloves with them to the ballpark. I overheard Rohlfing after a Rock Cats game. Someone asked him about whether he prefers catching, playing first base, or covering ground in the outfield. Rohlfing seemed to prefer catching for the mental engagement, but would willingly keep three gloves in his locker in order to play everyday. He then commented about Terry Ryan, stating that his "ticket to the big leagues" was being versatile. Last year, Rohlfing played 49 games in the outfield (primarily LF in New Britain--24 games, and RF in Rochester--15 games), caught 59 games (51 in New Britain & 8 in Rochester), 7 games at 1b (7 in New Britain & 1 in Rochester), and was the DH in 5 games (four times at NB and once in Rochester).

      Readers are likely more familiar with Chris Herrmann's work behind the plate and in the outfield. They closely mirror Rohlfing's development, without the reps at 1b, and not as many DH AB's.

      2. Is it any wonder that the Twins went after catchers in the 2013 draft? Remember they picked three catchers in rounds 3, 6 and 9. Good foresight? Or just the best players available? Either way, I bet that Turner, Navaretto, and Garner (picks 3,6 & 9) will have more than one glove in their lockers too--as well as other members of the draft class who will try out "the tools of ignorance."

      3. With all that said, I wonder if the Twins will be content to watch their young catchers develop in 2014, in a Pinto--Doumit--Herrmann platoon, or will they go outside of the organization to bring in Pierzynski or someone else? My guess is a one-year deal for someone off the free agent wire, but I wouldn't be surprised if Terry Steinbach coaches the Pinto platoon.

      4. I echo Shane Wahl's A & B strategy, above. 2014 may still be a joke, but I'd prefer to see free agent $ spent on pitchers, while watching the youth movement take root in the field, and behind the plate.

      5. Finally, one beef: I've read other posters who dismiss Pinto's All-Star status at AA because he caught only 60 games, while playing 48 games at DH. If the Twins organization wants to develop multi-position players like Pinto, Herrmann, and Rohlfing, that means taking turns. It does not necessarily mean that they are lousy catchers. It means that they are in the process of developing multiple skills.
    1. BigTrane's Avatar
      BigTrane -
      AJ is an interesting possibility mainly in that Dougie is on record as saying he wants AJ as his bench coach. My sense is that AJ's already begun angling for a post-playing career. 3 years as WS 'analyst' + forays into WWF mgmt. makes this pretty clear.

      I think he's got 1 or maybe 2 seasons left in him, then it's time to transition. My gut tells me his next signing is all about the post-playing end game.

      IMHO, Twins are on the verge of a housecleaning, and 2 years for Gardy is a courtesy. Bringing Molitor in is a thinly-veiled tryout, and the writing is on the wall. Should Gardy go after '14, Mollie becomes Skip, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Dougie + AJ coming up to fill in on coaching roles. If Gardy goes, Anderson goes, so a full housecleaning is in on the cards.

      In such a scenario, I couldn't say who would fill all the coaching spots (yet), but an AJ vs. Steinbach matchup under that scenario has to go to AJ. He would also have the advantage of stabilizing Pinto & Mauer's transition & making sure there's a good game-caller behind the plate. Besides that, I think having an AJ on your team is always better than having him going against your team. If he's an SOB, let's make him OUR SOB.

      Pinto shows great promise, and I'm high on him- give him a ton of at bats and guide him into things. I don't kid myself and think he can do 162 in '14 though. He's got tons of upside, but needs a mentor. Mauer can and will do all he can, but he has his own transition to focus on. AJ as mentor for Pinto would be ideal.

      Any speculation or hope for signing Salty is equivalent to throwing money down a toilet. The guy has no game-sense and is a proven loose cannon. Save the money (and heartache) and develop Pinto instead. AJ turns a whitebread, lackadaisical clubhouse into a seething cauldron of piss & vinegar. Twins win.
    1. BigTrane's Avatar
      BigTrane -
      Thinking about it, I could see Brad Radke replacing Anderson as pitching coach under this scenario. Morris might be a better choice, but... trying to be realistic. Not sure what BR is up to these days.
    1. LewFordLives's Avatar
      LewFordLives -
      I just don't see how AJ would be a fit for the Twins.

      The Good:
      1. Consistent offensive production.
      2. Durable.
      3. Entertaining.

      The Bad:
      1. Left handed in a park that favors right handed hitters.
      2. Never been a great catch and throw guy. That seems to be one of the main concerns about Pinto, so I'm not sure how AJ would bring added value in this area.
      3. He would be a distraction. You know he'll tell anyone who'd listen that he's replacing the guy he got pushed aside for in 2004.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      I see a real possibility that the lineup looks like this opening day:

      Fryer, C
      My lawyers will be contacting your lawyers regarding the corneal damage inflicted when I read this.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      My lawyers will be contacting your lawyers regarding the corneal damage inflicted when I read this.
      Not sure there's much cause for litigation here. The Twins have had a comprehensive, exhaustive acclimation/conditioning program in place over the past three seasons to minimize the danger and suffering fans are subjected to in the event of an apocalyptic disaster exactly like a potential Eric Fryer 2014 Opening Day start.

      If you've failed to adapt after three seasons of this, well, let's just say that if you're claiming damages, pain and suffering from seeing Fryer in the lineup after watching the 2013 Twins debuts of Worley, Gibson, Hicks, Colabello, etc, then you'd be facing an uphill battle convincing a jury of your peers if any of them are Twins fans.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by LaBombo View Post
      Not sure there's much cause for litigation here. The Twins have had a comprehensive, exhaustive acclimation/conditioning program in place over the past three seasons to minimize the danger and suffering fans are subjected to in the event of an apocalyptic disaster exactly like a potential Eric Fryer 2014 Opening Day start.

      If you've failed to adapt after three seasons of this, well, let's just say that if you're claiming damages, pain and suffering from seeing Fryer in the lineup after watching the 2013 Twins debuts of Worley, Gibson, Hicks, Colabello, etc, then you'd be facing an uphill battle convincing a jury of your peers if any of them are Twins fans.
      Yabbut... Eric Fryer?!?!?
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      A very underrated aspect of Pierzynski's game is in his management of pitchers. He calls a good game and knows the opponents. He has spent all but one season in the AL. Even as a backup to Pinto, he will have loads of information to share.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Love the ideas, particularly Shane's 2014, Don't feed the greed, & BigTrane's comments.

      I will say, AJ was never good at defense, unless you consider his trash talking/mental game/distraction to opposing hitters.

      Not the coaching type from what I can see. And broadcasting isn't coaching.

      I wouldn't mind seeing Anderson go. Is Jack Morris a pitching coach these days? Brad Radke?

      Where's the best place to find these guys? Pitchers who played for the Organization who are sitting at home doing nothing? Minor League managers? Any HOF pitchers who want the job?
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by Siehbiscuit View Post
      A very underrated aspect of Pierzynski's game is in his management of pitchers. He calls a good game and knows the opponents. He has spent all but one season in the AL. Even as a backup to Pinto, he will have loads of information to share.
      Are we thinking that Joe Mauer isn't willing to share info? It's not like Mauer is traded or dead. He'll still be on the team -- and I'd expect that he'd be willing to share his vast store of knowledge with younger catchers particularly since the choice to move to 1B was ultimately his own.

      I always liked AJ -- even when he was with the Whitey's -- mostly cuz he was the antithesis of boring.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      Are we thinking that Joe Mauer isn't willing to share info? It's not like Mauer is traded or dead. He'll still be on the team -- and I'd expect that he'd be willing to share his vast store of knowledge with younger catchers particularly since the choice to move to 1B was ultimately his own.

      I always liked AJ -- even when he was with the Whitey's -- mostly cuz he was the antithesis of boring.
      Reports are: "Joe is a quiet leader".

      I have no idea if that's true but I've read that over and over again from numerous sources.

      I assume that means that he is more adept at instructing mimes and chameleons.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Yabbut... Eric Fryer?!?!?
      Last year's visit to the solar system by Comet Bernier foretold the forthcoming Fryer Apocalypse.

      Remember... drinking water, canned foods, batteries, and '87 and '91 playoff runs on DVD.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      "I assume that means that he is more adept at instructing mimes and chameleons."

      Really a lost art and may explain his lofty salary.
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