Joe Mauer's opening day status is more in doubt by the day. What do the Twins do if he has to stay behind in Fort Myers when the team goes north?
As LEN3 has reported, Joe Mauer will have an enhanced MRI on his abdomen to get some answers on what's causing his continued discomfort following offseason kidney surgery. That can't be good news. Of the players the Twins can least afford to be without for an extended period, Mauer is tops on the list. Not only is he the best hitter on the team, he's also the best catcher in the league. You simply do not replace a guy like that from within.
Hopefully, this is just scar tissue or something minor, and he can get back into a groove knowing that the pain is a normal part of the healing process. But what if it's more serious? What if he needs more surgery? What will Ron Gardenhire do to fill the gap in the order and behind the plate?
I will start with the relatively easy question. Of course, it's not that easy to replace your number 3 hitter. But it's easier than replacing your starting catcher. Of all the Twins hitters, the closest approximation to Mauer is Jason Kubel. He's finally past the toughest injury a player can have, and he's raking. Though he won't hit for average like Mauer, he'll hit for more power and provide enough production to keep the lineup going.
Here's how I envision the lineup in the unhappy event of extended spring for Super Joe:
- Denard Span (RF/LF)
- Alexi Cassila (2B)
- Jason Kubel (DH)
- Justin Morneau (1B)
- Delmon Young/Michael Cuddyer (LF/RF)
- Joe Crede (3B)
- Nick Punto (SS)
- Carlos Gomez (CF)
Now for the tougher part. The logical choice for a short stint on the DL would be to move Redmond to starter and promote Jose Morales to be the backup. This would allow for additional bench flexibility because Morales is a switch hitter.
But what if Mauer needs additional surgery and his DL stay is a half a season or more (yikes, hated typing that)? That calls for a more radical solution. Mike Redmond is good for a couple of weeks of starting. But his history is to wear down after that and just stop hitting, and there's a noticeable drop off in his defenisve skills. Though he seems to be a foul ball magnet under normal circumstances, he gets especially beat up as his reactions slow playing everyday.
Red Dog would be fine if he had a lot of support, but I don't see him getting enough from Jose Morales. He's a decent catcher and a good singles hitter. He's actually a switch hitting Redmond, really. But he doesn't have the catching ability or the savvy to call games like Redmond. So I would see only spot starts for him. And you know how Gardy hates to substitute for his catcher for fear of injury. Though Morales might be a decent backup or platoon option, I don't see Gardy using him that much, and that will lead to reduced production from Redmond as fatigue sets in.
No, if Mauer can't go, the guy I see Gardy begging to bring north as his starting catcher is Wilson Ramos. Ramos is young and a little raw, but he's so physically gifted, he would not be a liability at all in the majors right now. I would not have made that statement prior to his starring in the Carribean World Series or his outstanding play this spring. But he's really showing that he could make the big jump, successfully made by Albert Pujols, from high Single A to the majors. Prior to this winter and spring, I knew he had a solid bat and an outstanding arm. But what has really impressed me this spring is the reports I keep hearing from the pitching staff. Both Liriano and Nathan praised his work behind the plate in his second near no hitter of the spring. And the clincher was the change-up he called with Joe Nathan on the mound on Sunday. To call a pitch a guy has not thrown in two years to get his team in the dugout quicker shows maturity beyond his years.
So, worse comes to worse, this is the line-up I see the Twins going with on Opening Day:
I could live with that. Could you?