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Joe Mauer to First Base: The Fallout

Warne examines the fallout of the bombshell announced by the Twins front office Monday that Joe Mauer will no longer play catcher.

Coming to the ballclub nearest you? Maybe.
Coming to the ballclub nearest you? Maybe.

When the news dropped late Monday morning that Joe Mauer would be transitioning from catcher to first base, it set of a hailstorm of epic proportions regarding what the Twins would do in his stead.

Josmil Pinto had a tremendous September with the big league club -- .342/.398/.566 with four home runs in just 83 PA -- but it would be foolhardy to think he's ready to fully handle the load of not only catching every day, but the rigors and intricacies of leading a major league staff as its behind-the-dish leader.

Pinto's defensive inadequacies were already evident in that short sample size, and would certainly become more magnified over the long haul. Veteran Ryan Doumit isn't a great deal better, either. In that respect, the Twins will probably look to the outside to supplement the catching depth before eventually (hopefully) fully handing the reins over the Pinto in the years to come.

But that's just part of the upshot here. Here are some key talking points to consider regarding this offseason and moving forward for the Twins:

* To reiterate, the Twins will likely have to supplement from the outside at catcher, even if it's just for 2014.

A number of media-types have said former Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a fit, but I just don't see it. The only way that works is if the Twins are unconvinced that Pinto can become the defensive catcher that the organization has described him as. More likely, the Twins will look to one of the following free agents:

A.J. Pierzynski - Durable, probably won't require more than a one- or two-year deal, could influence chemistry positively. Can still hit a bit.
Kurt Suzuki - The bat simply hasn't materialized for the former top-100 prospect, who at just 30 looks to be entering the journeyman portion of his career. Not particularly adept at throwing out base thieves.
Jose Molina - A defensive wizard who would be equal parts coach and mentor as well as backup catcher. Would be a tremendous fit if the Twins are interested in a 75/25 timeshare.
Carlos Ruiz- He'll be 35 on Opening Day, but has a very capable offensive profile in the past after a down year in '13. Ruiz is regarded as one of the game's better receivers, which would help a Twins staff that presently doesn't boast much strikeout potential.
John Buck- A warmish body.
Ramon Hernandez- Warmer than Buck, I think. Good defender in his day.
Kelly Shoppach- A good catch-and-throw guy who has hit lefties well in the past. That probably made more sense when Mauer was behind the plate.
Dioner Navarro- Will only be 30, and quietly had a nice year for the Cubs in 2013. Bat comes and goes in spurts, and he's not regarded as much of a defender.

Another option could be Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan, who is a skilled defender coming off a terrible 2013 season. Hanigan has virtually no power, but has more walks than strikeouts in his career. Think of him as the Jamey Carroll of catchers. Unless he's non-tendered, however, the Twins would have to trade for him. He's arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter, and made $2.05 million in '13.

* Mauer moving to first would probably close the door on a Justin Morneau reunion.

There probably was never much potential for a reunion in the first place, but now unless Morneau is willing to not only take a huge pay cut, but also become a regular DH, there probably isn't much of a fit. It's probably for the best, too. The Twins need to aim higher, and Morneau is better suited rehabbing his value someplace more conducive to offense, such as Tampa Bay.

* Mauer's value would take a hit playing first base, but he still has a chance to be an asset there.

Mauer had a .383 wOBA in 2013, not far from his career mark of .378. Either of those two marks would place him sixth among qualified first basemen, behind some pretty solid company:

Chris Davis (.421)
Paul Goldschmidt (.404)
Joey Votto (.400)
Edwin Encarnacion (.388)
Freddie Freeman (.387)

For a little context there, the fewest home runs hit of any of those five was Freeman with 23, and those five average 34.4 home runs. And while that's obviously skewed a bit by Davis' 53 bombs, it still goes to show that you don't have to be a bomber to put up big numbers, and be a perfectly useful first baseman. All five of those guys graded out terribly defensively, and still Encarnacion +4.1 fWAR was the lowest mark of the lot.

* Doumit's role on this team somehow becomes even less defined.

It made sense for the Twins to carry Doumit as a caddy for Mauer in a number of ways. One of them was simply not being Drew Butera, but it also worked for the Twins to have a catcher who could play in long spells should Mauer fall prey to the injury bug. An offensive-minded backup also made sense from the standpoint that he could also play in the outfield, at DH, or at first -- that part never really materialized -- to be used to his full potential while not wasting a roster spot on a slick-fielding, no-hit backstop like Tom Prince or Henry Blanco.

Doumit can still play those spots, but as a regular he's simply not an asset. His fielding is abysmal, and outside of a hot September, his bat lay dormant throughout much of the '13 season.

With Pinto now possibly getting the keys behind the plate, Doumit doesn't make as much sense. Doumit is very intelligent and appears to be well-liked as a teammate, but doesn't have the defensive chops -- or at this point, even the offensive ones -- to really merit using him as Pinto's running mate in terms of now, or in the future. Pinto needs someone -- in addition to bench coach Terry Steinbach, most likely -- to be in his ear during the game, and during in-between sessions who still straps the gear on once or twice a week, and can give him a second voice to rely on as he matures as a backstop. That might be where Molina (or Ruiz, or Pierzynski even) comes into play, as his stability behind the plate should not only make Pinto a better catcher, but help stabilize a pitching staff that desperately needs a guiding hand moving forward.

* The announcement and determination were made at a time that gives the club flexibility

The 2014 season may well be one more 'punt' so to speak, but to find out in early November that Mauer won't catch again gives the club flexibility at the best possible time. There's already flexibility in the budget to add a player, but with free agency open and the winter meetings looming, the Twins -- namely, Terry Ryan -- can get to work on finding a replacement, and fine-tuning the catching depth for this team not only this year, but as the team continues to climb back towards respectability. That's huge.