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Updated: August 28th, 2013 5:37pm
Zulgad: Twins will have to consider making Joe Mauer an ex-catcher

Zulgad: Twins will have to consider making Joe Mauer an ex-catcher

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins will have plenty of decisions to make this offseason.

One of the most important ones was something they didn't even see coming until Aug. 19. That was the day on which All-Star catcher Joe Mauer took a foul ball off his mask and ended up suffering a concussion.

Mauer hasn't played since and remains on the seven-day concussion list with no timetable for his return. The reports about Mauer's head injury are disturbing at best.

This is especially true for an organization that has been down the concussion road before with players such as Justin Morneau, whose career hasn't been the same since he suffered one while sliding into second base in July 2010 in Toronto, and Denard Span.

The most recent update on Mauer came Tuesday when manager Ron Gardenhire revealed that Mauer told him he had "some rough days" after leaving the team on its recent road trip and returning home. Last weekend, it was reported that Mauer had visited a specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

The optimist looks at this and says, "Joe will be fine, it's just going to take some time." The realist looks at this information and says, "Every concussion is different, you have no idea how people will respond to having one and this is an injury that does not play favorites."

Superstars are not exempt from this brain trauma. Just ask Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby.

Hopefully for the Twins and Mauer's sake, in a few weeks he will be fine and ready to return. But if that's the case, the Twins are going to have to realize they dodged a bullet and begin planning for the future.

The first step will be having a serious conversation with Mauer about whether he should continue catching games for this team.

Not having Mauer behind the plate would be a shame. He's exceptional defensively and, as many Twins fans like to point out, he might really only be worth $23 million a season if he's employed as a catcher.

Shortly after Mauer was placed on the short-term disabled list last week, it was suggested the Twins should go back to their 2012 plan that had Mauer splitting more time between catcher, first base and designated hitter.

A year ago, coming off an injury-plagued season in which he appeared in only 82 games, Mauer caught 74 games, was at first base for 30 and served as the designated hitter in 42.

This season, Mauer already had caught one more game than he did in 2012, while playing first base only eight times and spending 29 games at DH.

But as each report about Mauer's condition comes out, the feeling from this corner is that continuing to have him behind the plate might be too big of a risk in an era where concussions have (rightfully) become a major concern and can leave one in a fog for days on end.

For those who argue that Mauer isn't worth his contract if he's not catching, the obvious response is this: What is he worth if he can't play at all?

We know very little about concussions, but we do know this: If Mauer takes another hard foul ball off his mask next spring - and if he's catching, that will happen - the second concussion will be worse than this one.

And the third will be worse than that one.

Eventually, having Mauer catch will be nothing more than tempting fate. The Twins have to know this.

They also know that Mauer is their best player, his contract is fully guaranteed and having him have to sit in a dark room isn't in anyone's best interest. And yes, Mauer could suffer another concussion playing any position, or during an at-bat, or running the basepaths. But catching is where the biggest danger lies.

Odds appears to be good that Morneau will depart as a free agent after this season, leaving the Twins without a first baseman for 2014. Mauer might not have the power you would like to get from that position but his bat remains extremely valuable.

The only way to keep that bat in the lineup likely will be is if Mauer is referred to as an ex-catcher come next spring.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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