Maybe I'll make this into a regular series...the "Anybody Want to Talk...?" series. Anyway, Charlie Walters has a brief piece in the Pioneer Press about Mauer's future with the Twins. He quotes Jerry Bell, who says nothing of substance, and suggests that negotiations might begin soon after the All-Star break. I thought we might use that as a jumping-off point to talk about how this might go and what it might take to sign him.
As we know, Joe Mauer's current contract expires after the 2010 season, during which he will be 27 years old. Obviously a player entering free agency in his prime--a rare and valuable thing.
First, I want to discuss, and dispense with, the "hometown discount" idea-a phrase that Walters uses and irritates me to no end. It might be that staying in Minnesota has some monetary value to Mauer, but you can't go into negotiations begging him to take less. You can't take on the role of victim to the big markets-as much as you might think it's unfair, this is a business, and you have to bring your best game, not approach it with a woe-is-me attitude.
Now, for the factors that will affect the negotiations:
1. I think you have to start as soon as possible, because the earlier you do, the more risk you are allieviating from Mauer's perspective, which has some value. Obviously, waiting until he's actually a free agent is a non-starter-at that point, you aren't offering him any risk reduction against serious injury.
2. He's a catcher. That cuts both ways: he's incredibly valuable at that position, but of course catchers don't generally have long careers, at least as catchers. Most catchers move in their early 30s.
3. He's smack in his prime--most guys don't get to free agency until they are on the wrong side of 30. Of course he's also a brilliant player.
Frankly, there aren't a lot of guys who have signed free agent contracts that you can compare him to. There hasn't been a great catcher in his prime in recent years that has signed a free agent contract in quite awhile. Mike Piazza signed with the Mets at age 30 in 2000-that's actually the most relevant catcher comparison, I think. He got 80+ million for 6 years--a decade ago. Jorge Posada signed a 4 yr/50+ million extension with the Yankees--when he was 36. Ivan Rodriguez signed with Detroit 4/40 at age 32, but he was seen as largely used up. He had been forced to take a 1 year deal the year before to reestablish his value.
Let's look at some other postion players who have become free agents at 27-28 in recent years:
1. Mark Teixeira. 8/189 with the Yankees. Biggest position player deal of the off-season. He's a first baseman, 29 years old this year.
2. Alex Rodriguez: 10/252 with the Rangers in 2001. Whatever anyone wants to say about it, there's an argument that he's been worth it, he's been so good. Of coruse, he got traded and renegotiated, but the original deal was as above. He was 25 his first year in Texas, which is one of the things that made him so valuable.
3. Carlos Beltran, 7/120 with the Mets in 2005. He was exactly the same age (to the month) as Mauer will be after 2010.
One thing I'd like to say about big free agent contracts for position players: for the absolute best players, who sign in their prime, they actually tend to work out fairly well. Beltran has been quietly brilliant for the Mets. Rodriguez, whatever else you want to say, has been a great, great player. Manny Ramirez, however it ended, signed an 8 year deal with the Red Sox and was truly great, and helped lead them to 2 championships. Jeter (one I didn't mention because it was an extention avoiding arbitration) got 10/189 and he's been pretty freaking great.
Taking all of that into account, here's what I would like to see, and what I think might get it done sometime between now and the beginning of next season--after that all bets are off. A 7 year extension (beginning in 2011) with an AAV of $22 million= 7/154. That's a little less per year than Teixeira, and one fewer year, but he'd be getting it a year+ prior to free agency, which has some value. That keeps him in a Twins uniform through 2017 and his age 34 season. Another alternative is to try for something like 10/200--lower AAV but an insanely long committment. He'd be 37 when that deal ended, and almost certainly no longer playing catcher, but it might be worth it.
Anyway, what say you?