Happy Mauer Day, Everybody!

Well, hopefully.

Based on reports from Fort Myers, it sounds hopeful the Twins' franchise player will make his spring training debut as the DH in today's game against the Mets.

Let me be among the first to say: welcome back, Joe.

It hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for Joe Mauer over the past year. He took a lot of heat for failing to duplicate his 2009 MVP performance in 2010, and he saw his year end with an injured knee and another disappointing playoff appearance. He had surprise (to us, not to him, hopefully) knee surgery in December and last month required a lubricant injection into the knee. That injection not only delayed his start in camp, but also created a (minor and seemingly temporary) rift between him and Gardenhire.

Mauer is obviously going to face a lot of questions coming back into camp. People want to know about the knee, if he's ready to "rebound" in 2011, whether he'll be able to adapt to Target Field this season. Yes, people will certainly want to know a lot of things about the franchise player with the $23 million price tag.

Obviously, we're going to be talking about these issues all season long. You simply cannot talk about the Twins without talking about Mauer. In fact, Mauer has the distinction of not only being the most popular figure in the organization, but probably it's most divisive, as well.

In honor of Joe's return, and in preparation for his eighth season in the majors (yeah, eighth, that made me feel old), I thought we could take a step back just to appreciate how truly special Joe is as a player. Below I've put down five ways of measuring Joe's greatness - I invite you to add you own.

The way I figure it, we'll have months to have our usual debates over what the man hasn't done or is failing to do. Today, let's reflect on the remarkable things he has accomplished. Because we are witnessing something special, and it won't last forever.

The numbers after the jump.

1. If we take out his injury-shortened rookie season, Joe has been the second most valuable player in baseball over the course of his career.

Stat: Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement

Rk

Player

WAR/pos

From

To

Age

G

1

Albert Pujols

50.8

2005

2010

25-30

929

2

Joe Mauer

37.2

2005

2010

22-27

801

3

Chase Utley

37

2005

2010

26-31

869

4

Alex Rodriguez

34.7

2005

2010

29-34

873

5

Mark Teixeira

32.2

2005

2010

25-30

927

2. Mauer is not just a good hitter "for a catcher," he's one of the best hitters in baseball, period. Again, taking out his rookie year, during his career, Mauer has ranked as the 14th best hitter in the majors.

Stat: Baseball Reference's Adjusted Batting Runs

Rk

Player

BtRuns

From

To

Age

G

1

Albert Pujols

401.26

2005

2010

25-30

929

2

Miguel Cabrera

275.72

2005

2010

22-27

943

3

Alex Rodriguez

253.75

2005

2010

29-34

873

4

Mark Teixeira

220.59

2005

2010

25-30

927

5

Manny Ramirez

218.89

2005

2010

33-38

762

6

David Ortiz

216.44

2005

2010

29-34

863

7

Lance Berkman

208.19

2005

2010

29-34

854

8

David Wright

203.7

2005

2010

22-27

935

9

Matt Holliday

202.91

2005

2010

25-30

891

10

Chipper Jones

201.57

2005

2010

33-38

719

11

Ryan Howard

187.84

2005

2010

25-30

856

12

Prince Fielder

184.49

2005

2010

21-26

836

13

Adrian Gonzalez

183.64

2005

2010

23-28

842

14

Joe Mauer

178.72

2005

2010

22-27

801

15

Chase Utley

173.96

2005

2010

26-31

869

3. But, for a catcher, Mauer is an absolutely extraordinary hitter.

Do I need to elaborate? Three batting titles and an MVP should probably suffice. But try this:

Stat: Full-time catchers in the expansion era (1961-present), sorted by OPS+

Rk

Player

OPS+

PA

From

To

Age

1

Mike Piazza

142

7745

1992

2007

23-38

2

Joe Mauer

136

3578

2004

2010

21-27

3

Johnny Bench

126

8669

1967

1983

19-35

4

Jorge Posada

123

6763

1995

2010

23-38

5

Victor Martinez

121

4224

2002

2010

23-31

6

Chris Hoiles

119

3338

1989

1998

24-33

7

Carlton Fisk

117

9853

1969

1993

21-45

8

Ted Simmons

117

9685

1968

1988

18-38

9

Joe Ferguson

116

3624

1970

1983

23-36

10

Thurman Munson

116

5903

1969

1979

22-32

How about against his contemporaries?

Rk

Player

OPS+

PA

From

To

Age

1

Joe Mauer

136

3578

2004

2010

21-27

2

Jorge Posada

125

3311

2004

2010

32-38

3

Victor Martinez

123

4014

2004

2010

25-31

4

Brian McCann

122

2938

2005

2010

21-26

5

Mike Napoli

118

1804

2006

2010

24-28

4. But we shouldn't forget about his durability. Despite the knee injuries and the constant speculation over a possible position change, Mauer has been exceptionally durable during his career. In fact, between 2005 and 2010, only four catchers managed to log more innings behind than plate than Mauer.

Name

Pos

G

GS

Inn

From

To

Jason Kendall

C

820

815

7194

2005

2010

A.J. Pierzynski

C

779

740

6631

2005

2010

Yadier Molina

C

740

710

6174

2005

2010

Brian McCann

C

714

682

5936

2005

2010

Joe Mauer

C

687

664

5930

2005

2010

5. Joe Mauer is clearly on a Hall of Fame career path.

We discussed this in September.

Here's to another great (and healthy season) to Joe. Let's just hope we get to add some playoff wins to his already impressive resume.

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