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.

Comments (6)

  1. Hate to do it, but I have to disagree with almost all of this, primarily with the assertion that the Twins would like to be rid of him. I don’t think there’s any cance of that at all–they put him on waivers because almost every player gets put on waivers, because (except in the rare case that Ken Rosenthal finds out it happened) there’s no downside to doing it at all. It’s hard to write anything off after that Dodgers trade, but the Twins not trading Mauer is about as close to a sure thing as it gets.

    That’s the big thing–there’s no way in hell they want to trade him. I don’t think they should, either, but that’s a tougher call. I think there are big problems with the FG value mechanism, particularly for catchers who are good enough hitters to stay in the lineup while not catching. Mostly I just think there are all kinds of scenarios under which he earns the rest of his contract, or close enough to it–he’s gone right back to being the same great player he’s always been, and while that certainly could start to tail off at any time, I don’t see a reason to start expecting it right now.

    Eve if you do think they’re significantly overpaying going forward, that doesn’t make simply letting him go (if there’s a taker) an automatic benefit He’s still an elite player–he’s not Vernon Wells. You have to spend that money in a way that’s better for the team than having a great player (and a hometown guy, etc.) for the next several years would be, and I’m not comfortable trusting the Twins (or most teams) to do that.

    There are a lot of reasons to worry about the Twins going forward, but Mauer and his contract are not among them, not yet.

    • I didn’t write that they would want to be rid of him. I wrote that they should want to be rid of him. I can understand having criticisms for FanGraphs consideration of catching defensive metrics. That’s fair, but do you really think that his defense is being underrated to the tune of four wins over six years?

      Imagine if Mauer was a free agent at the end of this year, and his asking price was $138 million over six years, and there was no room for negotiation because another team was willing to pick that up. I don’t know how a team outside of Minnesota could take that deal imagining that he’ll be worth that production. You’d have to believe that this would be a smart move in order to suggest that the Twins shouldn’t let him go if he’s claimed.

      Also, it’s commonly said that almost every one gets put on trade waivers, but it’s closer to 20% of players.

      • I read a couple comments above as suggesting they were hoping to get rid of him–sorry if I misunderstood. No, not everyone literally gets put on waivers, but again, there’s just no reason not to want to, with respect to any single player.

        It’s not even the defensive metrics (though if course there’s a lot of wiggle room there) so much as the position adjustment. To my untrained eye, it seems to punish Mauer vis-a-vis other catchers because he’s good enough that his team wants him to play other positions when he can’t catch. And catchers in general seem to do poorly by WAR anyway, which is probably just a fiction of playing time, but it seems to me that if one position is consistently underperforming, the purpose of WAR would dictate that the adjustment for that position isn’t big enough.

        It’s not so much that you have to believe it’s a smart move as that it’s better than whatever else they could, or would be likely to, do with that money. Which I do. The whole reason elite players are almost always “overpaid” by most measures is that they’re really hard to adequately replace.

      • Actually, you’re wrong.

        Virtually every player gets put on waivers. Mostly to determine their value to other teams and potential in trade talks.

        Reference this SI article:
        http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/joe_lemire/08/25/waiver.wire/index.html

        There’s even a nice quote from JP Ricciardi:
        “Even [Cardinals first baseman] Albert Pujols and guys like that get run through waivers,” Ricciardi said. “You find out who has interest in players. At the time that team might be in contention and think they could use a player because their ownership is really gung ho on winning and we’re willing to take this salary for this year and next year. But then that team might not make the playoffs and over the winter if you call them and try to talk to them, they may say, ‘We’re going to go a cheaper way this year. Last year we had an opportunity to jump on it, but this year we’re going to go cheaper.’”

  2. I hear they might trade him to Proctor and Gamble for a lifetime supply of hygiene products for the stadium and clubhouse. Just rumors and this point though. Updates to come.

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