The Minnesota Twins have unsurprisingly placed catcher and hair product pusher Joe Mauer on trade waivers to see if some team, any team, perhaps one on the West Coast that’s recently amassed an assortment of unwanted contracts or one on the East Coast that’s recently rid itself of said unwanted contracts, might make a claim for him. Unfortunately for the Twins, such a scenario playing out seems unlikely.
That’s because almost two years into an eight year contract, Mr. Mauer has provided approximately half of the value for which he’s been paid, and as a player who’s not only about to turn 30-years-old, but has also seen his talent diminished to a degree by injuries, that’s a cause for concern.
Earlier this week I wrote about the Los Angeles Dodgers and how their willingness to take on the unwanted contracts from other teams didn’t necessarily represent a new world order taking shape in Major League Baseball as much as it’s merely a large market team acting as it should after years of exhibiting an unnecessary fiscal concern for the sake of ownership’s debts and lack of fiscal responsibility. If the Dodgers are taking their rightful place beside the New York Yankees, the Minnesota Twins are near the opposite end of this ranking according to market size.
Not only can they not afford to fail on long-term contracts, they can’t afford to not get something close to the return they expected when they originally signed the deal. So, even though Joe Mauer is most likely going to finish this season with 4.4 wins above replacement, which should make him one of the five most valuable catchers in the league, it’s not enough to justify the expenditure to which the Twins are currently committed.
At the conclusion of this season, Joe Mauer will be owed a total of $138 million over the next six years.
2013 – $23 million salary - $5.50 M $/WAR – Paying for 4.2 WAR
2014 – $23 million salary - $5.78 M $/WAR – Paying for 4.0 WAR
2015 – $23 million salary - $6.06 M $/WAR – Paying for 3.8 WAR
2016 – $23 million salary - $6.37 M $/WAR – Paying for 3.6 WAR
2017 – $23 million salary - $6.69 M $/WAR – Paying for 3.4 WAR
2018 – $23 million salary - $7.02 M $/WAR – Paying for 3.3 WAR
The above payment schedule anticipates approximately 22 wins above replacement from Mauer, when a very good (if not best) case scenario, represented by him repeating his 2012 production in 2013 and then progressing along an expected decline to age 35, suggests 18 wins above replacement for the remainder of the contract. In a vacuum, outside of no movement rights and goodwill to local fans, letting Mauer go to anyone who wants him should be an easy decision for the Twins front office to make.
Despite his poor production and injury-riddled 2011 season, the hometown Mauer is still loved in Minnesota, and still a recognizable enough name outside of the state to be featured in national advertising campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. He is one of the sole players in Major League Baseball for whom I will break my moratorium on referencing the term “face of the franchise.” These are the factors that get in the way of vacuum thinking.
According to reports from earlier this month, the Twins faced a similar situation to the one that they’re tempting this week when Justin Morneau was claimed off of trade waivers. The team ended up pulling him back despite the unlikelihood of him matching the value he’ll be paid for in 2013, the last season of the six year contract he signed in 2008. However, since Mauer is owed almost ten times as much as Morneau, it’s not exactly an equal playing field.
If for no other reason than to see exactly what his team would do, I’d rather enjoy seeing Mauer get claimed off trade waivers. Fortunately for the decision makers in the Minnesota front office looking to avoid stress, that’s unlikely given that other MLB teams are closer to the vacuum scenario that would easily allow the Twins to wave goodbye to Mauer than they are to the circumstances that Minnesota find for themselves.