Let me start by saying I’m a complete stat-head. As a result, I fully get that moving Joe Mauer out from the catcher’s spot would likely
kill slaughter his value. By moving to first base – and I’m by no means advocating a full-time switch – Mauer moves from an elite backstop to a slightly above-average first sacker.
What I’d suggest is that moving Mauer off catcher is simply a reactionary move to what was a bad move in the first place, which was signing Mauer to the contract extension. The Twins front office hasn’t exactly proven adept at selling high, or buying low, or any other phrase that would identify someone who makes good investments. By signing Mauer after what will likely be his best year ever (by far), Bill Smith and co. boxed themselves into expecting Joe to post a 900-plus OPS with Gold Glove-caliber defense behind the plate until Joe is in his mid-30s.
Nonetheless, nothing can be done about any of this; what’s done is done. The Twins need to find a way to maximize Mauer’s value to the club going forward, regardless of whether it’s catching 60% of the time, or whatever the split is. Mauer’s value to the club, both now and long-term, is quite obviously on the field. No, Mauer isn’t an ideal first baseman. It would take some sort of replication of his 2009 campaign for him to be anywhere near a $20 million caliber player over there, but there are a few things beyond that which need to be considered. But to maximize this contract in a way that actually makes sense beyond statistical measures, the club needs to take the necessary steps to keep him on the field no matter where he’s playing defensively.
I firmly believe, and this may go against my stat-head ideals, that simply having a hitter who can hold his own at every position in the field goes a long way to fielding a good ball club. As a result, I don’t like to box myself into thinking my squad needs a 5-plus WAR first baseman who is cut from the mold of a .300/.400/.550 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI. In fact, it wouldn’t bother me one bit if Mauer was a .300/.400/.480 first baseman, because that’s a quality hitter regardless of the position played.
To backtrack ever so slightly, the context of this entire issue stems from Chris Long asking for Joe Mauer theories for last night’s TwinsWrap program on AM1500. I noted that the Twins should seek a catcher to catch 30-40% of the time, and allow Mauer to fill that time at first base. Jake Nyberg – a man who’s opinion I respect a heck of a lot – called that a nightmare scenario, since Mauer would be “barely worth $10M, much less 23” if he played frequently at first for the club.
In the context of a statistical argument, it makes sense. Elite offensive catchers are worth more than similarly-skilled first basemen, and Mauer would definitely be the former, and hard-pressed to be and elite member of the latter. But here’s my issue: You run the risk of grinding Mauer completely into the ground, attempt to squeeze value out of him at catcher like one might squeeze juice out of a lemon. My worry would be that this would make Mauer a shell of his former (or even current) self for the last two or so years of the deal.
So, with long-term views in mind, do you willfully accept that Mauer isn’t going to be worth his contract as a first baseman, but cast aside your stat-head views and move him there (again, still catching at least half the time), allow Morneau to DH almost full time (opening an entirely new can of worms there), and pursue C (Jose Molina/Ramon Hernandez/Kelly Shoppach) and 1B (Parmelee/Giambi/Cuddyer) backup options? And by doing so, perhaps squeeze an extra two years of good production out of him at the tail end?
I guess I don’t know the answer to that.