This article was originally posted back in January, but with Mauer's 2000th hit Tom wanted various Mauer articles. I haven't changed much, but have added more data to support my opinion. I'd also just like to mention that I did not change my opinion on a potential salary for 2019 and beyond despite his torrid start to the season.
It's no secret that Joe Mauer is entering the final year of his 8 year, $184 million contract extension signed in 2010. It's also not a secret that Mauer isn't the player he was in 2009 or in the years leading up to that MVP season. What does seem to be a secret, is what thoughts "Falvine" has on Mauer's future past the 2018 season. There are really only three options, which I will breakdown below.
1. Stay with the Twins
Personally, I think this is the most likely scenario. He's from here, his family is here, he's spent his entire career here, his personality and demeanor (although frustrating to fans) fits well with the "Minnesota nice" mantra, and the Twins are starting to become contenders. So what will it take for the Twins to keep him here?
Since his move to 1st base (2012) Mauer has played 813 games as a first basemen, which is good for 13th most among 50 qualified players. In that same time he has provided a 14.7 WAR which is good for 10th best:
- The "good": he's staying healthier, he's getting on base (6/50 in BA and 5/50 in OBP), and he's become one of the best defensive 1B in the game (#1 in UZR in 2017 among 21 qualified players).
- The "bad": he'll be 36 in April of 2019 (only 6 qualified players were 36+ years old in '17), he provides no power as a 1B/DH (42/50 in SLG from 2012-2017), despite being healthier he's still good to miss at least 20 games/year not including the days provides no defensive value as a DH.
I think it's fair to assume that 2017 is the ceiling of what we can expect from Mauer in 2018 and beyond, although he has been lights out so far this season. Looking at salaries for players who are currently 36+ years old, 2017 and 2018 contract agreements, and salaries of other 1B around the league I would be looking for the Twins to give Mauer a 2-3 year deal at $8-$10 million/year not including incentives or player/team options. Again, I believe him signing with the Twins is the most likely scenario.
I came up with the $8 - $10 million range from looking at the following data.
Yonder Alonso signed with the Indians for $8mil per year. Comparatively to Mauer, he provides a little more power, less OBP, and a lot less defense. He's younger, coming off a career year, and also fits the "launch angle" ideal that so many hitters are trending towards. Ultimately, my opinion is that the pros and cons of both players provide a similar value to a team although the type of value they provide are different. I think that provides a sort of base line going into next offseason.
I also looked at players that signed in 2016/2017 offseason who were 36+ years old and although the median salary was 7.75 million a few of those guys are getting paid $13 & $16 million.If I were to include 35+ year olds, which is technically how old Mauer will be at the start of the 2019 season, the median is at $8 million and includes Yadier Molina (a career long Cardinal) getting paid $20 million. Although the median is lower, I think the higher deals give Mauer/Shapiro some room to negotiate an above the median salary. Especially if Mauer performs similarliy to how he did in 2017 and/or is able to hit like he currently is for a majority of 2018.
2. Sign Elsewhere
I don't see this happening, but obviously this is a possibility. Assuming Mauer only has a few more years in the big leagues, he could be looking for a team to win now. Now being 2019 or 2020. Depending on what the Twins FO does in free agency over the next couple years the Twins may or may not be legit world series contenders in 2019 or 2020. I hate to say it but with Greg Bird not being able to stay healthy the Yankees may have an opening at first base that would be a good fit for Mauer. Teams like Houston, Boston, Chicago (NL), Dodgers, Indians and Nationals are also obvious contenders, but currently have a player who is under contract at 1st base.
From what I have read/heard, there hasn't been any rumblings that Mauer is ready to hang them up. Doesn't mean it's not something to consider. Honestly, I almost think Joe would be more apt to retire than he would be to sign somewhere else. Moving somewhere else obviously would mean either moving his family or moving away from his family, which I don't think he would want to do.