Thursday, May 12, 2016
Twins Missed Window On Minnesota Man
Whether you follow local blogger Aaron Gleeman on Twitter or not, there's no such thing as a peruse through his mentions without seeing distaste for Mauer. Whether it be because he doesn't hit enough home runs, isn't loud enough, or frankly isn't Bryce Harper, the casual Twins fan likes to use him as a punching bag for everything wrong with the organization.
It's become nearly impossible to escape the silly thought that signing Mauer to an 8 year, $184 million contract was a bad decision, but the reality says that may have been the only positive one the Twins have made of late.
Following an MVP season, and then another in which he was in consideration, the Twins gave the hometown hero the lucrative deal. Not only did it make sense from the marketing standpoint, but Mauer was easily among the best catcher's to ever play the game. He was a surefire Hall of Famer, he was one of the best hitters ever at any position, and he stood for everything the Twins wanted to tie themselves to.
Then it happened. A concussion and subsequent injuries sapped Mauer's career arc from becoming what it was destined to be. He sat out much of 2011, and despite going on to be an All Star again in 2013 and 2013, he became a shell of the player he once was. No longer a catcher full time, Mauer had to reinvent himself. He was never the home run hitter the Metrodome made him out to be in 2009, but he had to completely change his approach as a whole. What once was such a certainty became anything but.
That brings us to where we are today. Whether it be the further distance from the brain trauma he suffered, or the successful experiment with sunglasses, Mauer is back to being one of the most productive hitters in the big leagues. He's dictated counts, he's worked the zone, and his .424 on base percentage leads the league (and has also FINALLY gotten the Twins to use him as their leadoff man).
Maker's approach at the plate in 2016 has been nothing short of a revelation. His 37% hard hit rate is the best he's seen since 2013, and ranks in the top echelon of his numbers of the entirety of his career. On the season, he's swung and missed just 3.5% of the time, which ranks second all time among his career numbers. He's near 90% contact rate is truly remarkable, and he's chasing pitches out of the zone just 18.5% of the time (the best we've seen from him since 2008).
If you've watched the Twins at all in 2016, you know that Mauer has been nothing short of great, that's really not the point here. Instead, the issue is that the Twins did what they should have done in locking Mauer up with a mega deal, but then decided to say they were done.
Baseball is not a sport where one guy gets the job done. Mike Trout is arguably the best player on the planet, and his Angels team is a joke. Over the course of his 13 year career with Minnesota, Mauer has been to the playoffs just three times, and not since 2010. He's been paired with internal stars such as Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau, but outside help has been next to nonexistent.
Looking back through the help that Minnesota's front office has paired their superstar with, the lone bright spot is probably in the form of a 39 year old Jim Thome. Brought in for the 2010 season, Thome was worth 3.0 fWAR and clubbed 25 homers for the Twins that year. Despite finishing first in the AL Central and winning 90 games, that team's rotation consisted of Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker. Sure, they all won double digit games, but the average ERA was 4.36. For a playoff run, that's hardly going to get it done.
Considering the course of the relationship between the Twins and Joe Mauer, the highlight for the two was in signing that 8 year mega-deal. It was the right move at the time, and even with the injuries having changed Mauer's career course, has far from hampered the club going forward. Where the Twins let not only themselves, but Joe as well down, was in believing that was enough. Minnesota's management decided that Mauer alone could return a championship to Minneapolis, and in failing to get him help in any significant amount throughout his career, Mauer has been failed most.
As the Twins slog through the 2016 slate and hope that 2017 is a corner turner back to relevancy, it will be Joe who goes about his business and sits idly by again. Top prospects will be promoted and expected to contribute. Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Jose Berrios are this club's future; they should be expected to be. What shouldn't be expected is the Twins going out and making the smart investment on a top tier free agent or two to pair with their internal talent and elevate them to new heights.
We've never seen it before, why start now.