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Mauer Signs Through 2010

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Twins sign star for 4-Years and $33 Million, avoiding arbitration and locking up the game's premier catcher.

At some point down the line, the Twins are probably going to have to make a few difficult decisions.  It's not like a few years ago, when Minnesota's household names could easily be counted on one hand.  There are now a number of top-tier players on the squad, and top-tier talent breeds top-tier contracts.  Sometime in the next three to five years, some of these household names will be gone.

For today, however, let's not forget how unbelievable freeking awesome it is that the Twins have signed Joe Mauer to a 4-year deal.  Joe Mauer, All Star.  Joe Mauer, MVP candidate.  Joe Mauer, AL Batting Title winner.  Joe Mauer, milk drinker, home run hitter, fashion model and home town talent-come-hero.

You know that dude who cruises around the Metrodome on game day with his backpack lighted up with a "JOE MAUER FAN CLUB" LCD display?  Yeah, we signed THAT Joe Mauer.

In 2006, Mauer's age 23 campaign, he emerged as the phenom force he was projected to be.  Take a look at how he compares to the rest of the American League's catchers.

Team  Name          Age   Avg   Obp   Slg   VORP
BAL   R. Hernandez   30  .275  .343  .479   28.8
BOS   J. Varitek     34  .238  .325  .400    2.8
CWS   A. Pierzynski  29  .295  .333  .436   18.3
CLE   V. Martinez    27  .316  .391  .465   47.8
DET   I. Rodriguez   34  .300  .332  .437   22.0
KC    J. Buck        25  .245  .306  .396   -1.0
LAA   M. Napoli      24  .228  .360  .455   13.0
MIN   J. Mauer       23  .347  .429  .507   66.9
NYY   J. Posada      34  .277  .374  .492   38.0
OAK   J. Kendall     32  .295  .367  .342   13.2
SEA   K. Johima      30  .291  .332  .451   24.0
TB    T. Hall        30  .231  .261  .398   -6.1
TEX   R. Barajas     30  .256  .298  .410    0.6
TOR   B. Molina      31  .284  .319  .467   15.5

It's not just that Mauer was better than every other catcher in the American League, he was 80 points better in OPS than the second-best offensive catcher, Victor Martinez.  The youngest and the best; every fan's dream.

Getting into the discussion of the contract directly, here's how the deal shapes up:

Year 1     Year 2     Year 3     Year 4
$3.75 MM   $6.25 MM   $10.50 MM  $12.50 MM

In the first two years of the contract, the reality is that the Twins are likely saving $2-3 million dollars total.  Heading into arbitration, the Twins had offered Mauer $3.3 million versus Joe's $4.5, and reality is that the total figure would have been closer to the player's figure than the club's.

PECOTA's mean projection for the 23-year old in 2007 is .331/.411/.500.  Even if he falls short of these benchmarks and hits .310/.390/.450, a significant raise would be in store through arbitration heading into 2008.

Years three and four are where Mauer's contract catches up with what his market value is likely to be.  If you're going to be paying more than $10 million for a player in arbitration, that means he's a big part of your club and you want him in uniform--so, wouldn't it be better just to have him under contract?  In 2010, Mauer's dollar figure is easily within the realm of what he could be receiving in his first year of a deal as a free agent.

Just that the Twins are willing to make this move says a number of things:

  1. They have a belief that the Twins will be competetive over the next few seasons, and they believe Joe Mauer is an integral part of this puzzle.
  2. That the Twins are willing to bite the financial bullet when it means locking up talent.  For years, this was not the case, and now it seems ownership is beginning to create a track record of peeling back layers of rust.
  3. There is faith in the abilities and health of Joe Mauer.  For a franchise not yet in its new stadium, and still within the shadow of the contraction years, Mauer's signing is a statement of purpose and design.
  4. That the Twins believe they are better off for the future, and no worse off in the present, by locking up Mauer.  Promising the money over four years now will hopefully be a sign of a good relationship between Mauer and Twins' ownership in years to come, and making this deal now puts the Twins in a better situation to be making extensions to this deal when the time comes.
Conclusion

There is little doubt to what Mauer's presence means to this club on and off the field.  From the standpoints of team success, fan recognition, face-of-the-franchise purposes, this contract works and makes sense.  Since the Twins were bounced from the post season this was one of the goals of management, fans and the bloggosphere, even if we didn't think it was going to happen.  Now that it's actually happened to one of the biggest prizes the Twins carry, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is exactly what needed to happen.

Long-term deals are always scary in some ways, particularly when dealing with a player who is young and has a previous serious injury on record.  But the bottom line is that signing players who are the core and basis of your success, it's what good, competetive teams do.  That's the chance you take, it's the risk necessary.

"We're talking about a player that is very talented. With his age, talent, the way he carries himself and the respect he has for everything that surrounds the game, we're talking about a special player in a lot of ways. Those are the types of people you would like to reward when they go out and show you that they are going to get the job done."  --Terry Ryan

In 2010, we know who will be squating behind home plate as the pitcher hurls the first pitch on opening day.  Now let's talk about knowing, without a doubt, that number 57 will be on the other end of the battery.