Before anyone has the opportunity to accuse us of “hating on” Joe Mauer, we want to make it very clear from the beginning that we love Joe Mauer. There is a lot to love about him. The hometown boy and local legend gets drafted by the Twins. He’s a MVP, an All-Star (6x), a Silver Slugger (5x), a Gold Glover (3x). He has a winning, yet unassuming smile, the trademark of any true Minnesotan. He has a squeaky clean image (google “Joe Mauer scandal” if you are having a hard time falling asleep sometime. He doesn’t even allow himself to watch the show Scandal; it’s too scandalous). It doesn’t seem as if his looks have ever hurt his popularity either. He’s like a third Hemsworth brother that plays baseball:
Oh, and those side burns! They’ve led to one of the better ballpark promotional day ideas:
But there is a problem with Joe Mauer: he gets paid a lot and does very little on the baseball field anymore. In the spring of 2011 the Twins signed Mauer to an 8-year contract worth $184,000,000, or $184 million for those of you that struggle with processing that many zeros. That comes to $23 million a year, a sum he will make annually through the end of the 2018 season. At the time the contract was inked it was the move the Twins HAD to make. He was the hometown boy, of course. And the hated Yankees were licking their chops to have Mauer come in to replace Jorge Posada. Furthermore, he was one season removed from a campaign where he hit an absurd .365 with 96 RBI and 28 home runs. If the Twins had let Mauer get away in 2011 there would have been a riot across Minnesota (Note: when Mnnesota Twins fans riot there are apologies throughout the affair and usually a pot-luck after with lots of hot-dish).
But the huge chunk of money that it took to get Mauer, who at the time was clearly the best player at an extremely valuable position, to stay a Twin looks worse every year. For starters, since inking that deal he has never come close to matching that 28 home run season, his best effort since has been 11 taters. His batting average has dipped considerably as well. Mauer batted just .265 in 2015 (and totaled a whopping 10 homers), despite playing in more games than in any other season. Why the decline? Hard to say. Catcher is a brutal position on the human body and Mauer’s early career was marred by injury after injury. Concussions appear to be a possible factor. Twins fans know that story all too well after Justin Morneau.
Now, a very good defensive catcher that hits in the .270 range and chips in a little power only once and awhile can certainly have some value on an MLB team. Catchers are super important. But here’s the issue, Mauer is not a catcher anymore. He was converted to being primarily a first baseman (with some days DH’ing too). That’s a position where you are expected to deliver some serious power production. The numbers Mauer posts now are terrible in comparison to his peers at first base. Full-time MLB first basemen averaged around 25 home runs in 2015. Compare that for a moment to Mauer’s 10. Which was not just an off season, in 2014 he had 4. Those kinds of stats are what ultimately get you a negative “wins above average” rating, a statistic that compares a player’s production to that of the average player at their position. Mauer theoretically cost the Twins 0.8 wins last season, while still getting paid a giant pile of money. Let’s see the smile again to remind us why we still love him:
Ok, that’s better. Twins fans may be more comfortable calling Mauer what he is at this point: a really well paid, really well liked mascot, that hits a home run once every month or so. The average pro-sports mascot makes about $25,000 a year, reportedly. Meaning Mauer is vastly overpaid for the position, making about 920 times more than the men and women in the actual stuffed mascot suits.
Again, this is not Joe Mauer hate, because he is by all accounts a wonderful person and at one point was a wonderful ball player. It’s more a cautionary tale about big money contracts, the lure of the hometown feel-good story, and the real-life frailty of our heroes. The average Twins fan would have been crushed, perhaps irreparably, by losing Mauer to another team in 2011. If it had been the Yankees many would have sworn off Twins fandom forever. Signing the big contract was the move that had to be made at the time. And so Twins fans have to settle for being content watching Mauer play out the last few years of an extra-ordinary contract with very ordinary play. Because his career trajectory took such a sharp dive after 2009, he may never see the Hall of Fame, despite many believing he was a lock up to that point. But he will always get tons of love in Minnesota, maybe even $23 million-worth of love. But to squeeze a little more return out of Joe he should be given a t-shirt cannon, he’s not fulfilling all his job duties!