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Twins Fan From Afar

Did Joe Mauer -- and Twins Fans -- Need His 2011 Season to Happen?

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[Originally posted at my blog, Twins Fan From Afar]

It's often said that balance is necessary in order to understand the universe. How can you define "hot" without understanding "cold," contemplate "good" without a concept of "evil," or truly appreciate a nice Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon without having a few boxes of Franzia wine in your past?


Joe Mauer has spoiled the Twins and their fans for much of his professional career. He exceeded most reasonable expectations, and he met even most unreasonable expectations. He mostly stayed out of the spotlight for the first several years of his career, despite being an All-Star. Sure, Gatorade, Head & Shoulders and MLB the Show came calling, but until 2011, no one really cared. And he kept clear of negative press -- have you ever heard Mauer say a negative word about anyone, or read a story about him showing up drunk at a club in the offseason?


If you believe that the Fangraphs "value" indicator is of any merit, Joe Mauer has provided $145.8 million in value to the Twins during his career, while being paid significantly less -- $57 million in total through 2011. Unfortunately, 40 percent of Mauer's career salary came in 2011, undoubtedly his worst season as a professional baseball player. Of that $23 million paid out in salary, the Twins received only $7.9 million in value. It should come as no surprise that an All-Star catcher isn't worth very much money if he isn't catching, if he isn't at Target Field in the lineup, or if he isn't even traveling with the team, all of which were the case at various points in 2011.


If nothing else, Mauer's 2011 underscored just how valuable he is to the Twins when healthy, and how much of a game-changer is, when healthy. I don't care so much about the home runs. In fact, Fangraphs suggests that Mauer was worth $22.4 million in 2010 to the Twins, when he only hit 9 home runs, drove in 75 runners, and had a .327/.402/.469 slash line -- remarkably similar to his career line of .323/.403/.471. Clearly, much of his value is tied up in defense at the all-important position of catcher. The fact that he has a career .874 OPS is icing on the cake.


I'm not suggesting that Mauer's contributions to the Twins were a complete surprise, or were simply a "lucky break" for fans: he was the first overall draft pick in 2001 and was expected to be a star; us fans pay him very, very well to be one of the best players in the game; and he finagled a huge contract out of the Twins' ownership. I am, however, suggesting that I'm going into 2012 with a newfound appreciation for just how great Joe Mauer has been for the first half of his career.


In my experience, there's a better appreciation for a new job or pay raise if you have ever been laid off, demoted, underemployed, or have taken a pay cut; there's a better appreciation for making a sports team and receiving that coveted jersey if you have ever scanned the final roster of names, only to find that yours isn't on the list; and there's a better appreciation for the feeling of being accepted to a college if you have ever received a thin rejection envelope in the mail. Sure, it would be nice if life didn't work that way, but that's not reality. Similarly, with respect to Mauer, perhaps his 2011 puts the rest of his career in better perspective.


If you're curious, Thrylos98 at the Tenth Inning Stretch has been doing some fantastic lists and rankings of all-time great Twins. For instance, he attempts to rank the all-time Twins most valuable player here, chronicles the season and career Twins OPS leaders here, and rates the franchise season and career slugging percentage leaders here. If you haven't, you should read these posts. But, even if you don't read this great work, I can cut to the chase for you: Mauer fares very, very well on all lists. In other words, halfway into his career, Mauer is already one of the best Twins -- ever.


Joe Mauer still has a lot of work to do in order to re-build his reputation as one of the game's best. He has to stay healthy, he has to catch regularly, and he has to bat over .300 in order to provide great "value" to the Twins -- whatever you definition of that word. But if there's one thing I can take from everything that was awful about Mauer's 2011, it's that it made me appreciate how great 2004-2010 were.


Twins fans -- and Mauer himself -- perhaps needed his 2011 season to happen. Without struggle, failure, and the realization that he is indeed aging as an athlete, fans might never have the opportunity to look at -- and appreciate -- 2004-2010 in a new light. And Mauer might not be coming into the second half of his career with a chip on his shoulder. Most overpaid veterans don't believe that they have something to prove going into Spring Training, but everything I have read the past several weeks suggests that Mauer is ready, perhaps for the first time, to shut critics up. Sure, I wish that Mauer's 2011 had been just as great as his 2004-2010, but that's not life. And because of that 2011, I think that fans are going to see a Joe Mauer in 2012 who, although familiar and friendly, will come ready to rebuild his reputation and lead the Twins into (hopefully) the next generation of competitiveness.

Comments

  1. jeffk's Avatar
    "Joe Mauer has provided $145.8 million in value to the Twins during his career, while being paid significantly less -- $57 million in total through 2011."

    We should have quit while we were ahead. When you sign that next contract, you never get the value back. Getting more value than you pay out is the only way a small-market team can compete.
  2. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
    Thanks for the comment. I agree generally that ball clubs are more likely to get better "value" from a player earlier in their career -- like the Twins did with Morneau, Mauer, Hunter, Santana, etc.

    But if you're suggesting that the Twins are small market, they aren't a small market team anymore. They went into 2011 with the 9th highest payroll in baseball -- that puts them in the top 30% of MLB payroll. Now, of course, they scaled back a little in 2012, but I'm sure they will still be in the top 35% or 40% of spenders this year. They can afford 1 or 2 big contracts at a time -- they just need their big guns to be healthy and productive.
  3. Steve Lein's Avatar
    Just want to point out on the payroll front, that the fact the Twins are Top 10 or Top 30% in payroll, means absolutely nothing when you actually consider the money they spend. What is the biggest free agent contract the Twins have ever handed out?...It happened this year...was for 3 years and 21 million dollars...to Josh Willingham... Sorry, but that's the definition of what a small market team is. Look at the Angels, who can spend $240 MIL on Pujols, and $77.5 MIL on C.J. Wilson in one offseason. That's 15 times more free agent money for 2 players than the Twins highest free agent signing ever. Also, consider the actual payroll numbers. Yes, the Twins were number 9 in the MLB last year with just shy of a $113 MIL payroll. The Yankees were obviously #1, with a $203 MIL payroll. So doing the math, the Twins spent 55.66% of the top team. Doesn't sound all that "big market", does it? This year, their payroll has fallen to just short of $100 MIL, and they'll be somewhere in the middle of the pack in payroll, no longer in the top 10. Big market teams get top-flight free agents, and even in Target Field, the Twins have yet to do anything of the sort. All the new stadium has done, is allowed them to keep one homegrown superstar who if they were still in the Metrodome would for sure be gone right now. Take his $23 MIL off the books, and what's their payroll? Bottom half of the league, that's what. The increase in revenue at Target Field has not allowed them to spend a bunch of money and bring in impact players, it's allowed them to keep one player. Fact is, The Twins certainly have not all of the sudden turned into a "big spender" or been transformed into a "big market team".
    Updated 03-01-2012 at 10:16 AM by Steve Lein
  4. TiberTwins's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein
    Just want to point out on the payroll front, that the fact the Twins are Top 10 or Top 30% in payroll, means absolutely nothing when you actually consider the money they spend. What is the biggest free agent contract the Twins have ever handed out?...It happened this year...was for 3 years and 21 million dollars...to Josh Willingham... Sorry, but that's the definition of what a small market team is. Look at the Angels, who can spend $240 MIL on Pujols, and $77.5 MIL on C.J. Wilson in one offseason. That's 15 times more free agent money for 2 players than the Twins highest free agent signing ever. Also, consider the actual payroll numbers. Yes, the Twins were number 9 in the MLB last year with just shy of a $113 MIL payroll. The Yankees were obviously #1, with a $203 MIL payroll. So doing the math, the Twins spent 55.66% of the top team. Doesn't sound all that "big market", does it? This year, their payroll has fallen to just short of $100 MIL, and they'll be somewhere in the middle of the pack in payroll, no longer in the top 10. Big market teams get top-flight free agents, and even in Target Field, the Twins have yet to do anything of the sort. All the new stadium has done, is allowed them to keep one homegrown superstar who if they were still in the Metrodome would for sure be gone right now. Take his $23 MIL off the books, and what's their payroll? Bottom half of the league, that's what. The increase in revenue at Target Field has not allowed them to spend a bunch of money and bring in impact players, it's allowed them to keep one player. Fact is, The Twins certainly have not all of the sudden turned into a "big spender" or been transformed into a "big market team".
    This is an interesting and puzzling point. Yes, they kept Mauer, but it seems they still have the small market team attitude when it comes to brining in free agents. They continue to cling to the philosophy that they do not have money to spend and they have to do it all themselves and refuse to bring in new players for the top level team. If they come in a trade and spend time in the minors learning the "Twins way," that's OK. It is hindering their ability to field competitive teams.
  5. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
    Good point, Steve. It is true their attitude is certainly more "small market and home-grown" than a true, big market team like the Yankees.

    I'm not trying to give the organization the benefit of the doubt too much here, but I do think that we'll see them spend more free agent money after the 2012 season, when it's possible that Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano will be off the books. We're only a few season into Target Field, so it might be a little premature to judge what they will or won't do with respect to free agency.
  6. Steve Lein's Avatar
    I'll give you that it may be too early, but I don't buy your argument about Baker ($6.5 MIL), Liriano ($5.5 MIL), and Pavs ($8.5 MIL) potentially coming off the books meaning they're likely to be spenders next year more than they have been. If they were going to be spenders, this was the year to do it as they had Cuddyer ($10.5 MIL), Kubel ($5.25 MIL), Thome ($3 MIL), Nathan ($11.25 MIL), and Young ($5.374 MIL) come off the books, and they replaced them with Carrol ($2.75 MIL), Doumit ($3 MIL), Willingham ($7 MIL), and Marquis ($3 MIL).
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