MINNEAPOLIS — As Joe Mauer’s performance began to decline in the midst of his eight-year, $184 million contract, an anti-Mauer faction of Minnesota sports fans began to call for the Twins to trade the St. Paul native.
This was a ridiculous request given that Mauer’s $23-million per year deal included a no-trade clause. Mauer, who had been moved from catcher to first base after the 2013 season because of concussion issues, was calling the shots and he was going nowhere.
Mauer still maintains that power but for the first time since he signed his mega-contract in March 2010 it is no longer ridiculous to consider that Mauer could be dealt.
This season has been a massive disappointment for the Twins. They entered Friday night’s game against visiting Baltimore sitting 12-games under .500 (36-48) and 11.5 games back of division-leading Cleveland in the putrid American League Central.
If the Twins had any thought of making a run at the Indians, that came to an end during a 1-9 road trip that saw them win one of three against the White Sox before getting swept by the Cubs and Brewers. Don’t let anyone tell you different: The Twins season is over and they are going to be sellers as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline nears.
They have plenty to offer.
The list of trade candidates includes infielders Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar and Logan Morrison, righthanded starter Lance Lynn, lefthanded reliever Zach Duke and closer Fernando Rodney. Dozier, Escobar, Duke and Lynn will be free agents after the season. The Twins hold an option — and a buyout — on the contracts of Rodney and Morrison, if he fails to reach 600 plate appearances.
Mauer also is in the final season of his contract and it’s unclear how much longer he will play. The top-overall pick in the 2001 MLB amateur draft, Mauer is in his 15th season playing for his hometown team. He should be remembered as one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game — he won three batting titles and an MVP award — but unfortunately he is just as likely to be remembered for having his career derailed by injury.
His latest battle with concussion-like symptoms occurred in mid-May when he attempted to make a diving catch of a foul ball in Anaheim. Mauer was placed on the disabled list a few days later and did not come off the DL until June 15 in Cleveland.
Mauer was batting .283/.404/.355 with a home run and 11 RBIs in 38 games when he was injured. He entered Friday hitting .194/.225/.328 with a homer and 10 RBIs in 18 games since his return, but his bat has shown a bit more life since he went 5-for-11 with a homer and eight RBIs at Wrigley Field.
The Twins have an opportunity to do Mauer a favor here — especially if the brain trust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine aren’t going to bring him back — by offering him the chance to go to a contending team to finish the season. All Mauer has to do is give the Twins the OK to shop him.
Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com recently reported that Mauer’s agent, Ron Shapiro, declined to comment when asked how his client plans to utilize his no-trade protection. Potential landing spots for Mauer could include the Yankees, Mariners or Cardinals to name three.
Falvey would not get a big return for Mauer but he certainly could get a prospect. Mauer still has the ability to get on base, he takes quality at-bats and he has turned himself into one of the better fielding first basemen in the big leagues. These would be qualities a contending team would welcome.
Mauer has appeared in 10 postseason games with the Twins, including last season’s wild card loss to the Yankees and three AL Division series.
At some point, he will have his No. 7 retired by the Twins and there would appear to be a good chance that there will be a No. 7 gate at Target Field and a statue of him outside the stadium. He will be remembered as a Twin — even if he doesn’t finish in Minnesota — and one day his production as a catcher will be fully appreciated by Twins fans.
But Mauer is running out of chances to get a World Series ring and it seems only fair that if the Twins can put him in a position to be part of a championship this fall that they at least give him that opportunity.