16 October 2009
Winning the division and going to the postseason is not a treat awarded every team. Many would agree that the Twins enjoyed a respectable 2009 campaign, despite it being a roller coaster of emotion. Fans survived the low moments, and enjoyed the high points.
Mishandling the re-signing of Joe Mauer, however, could derail the roller coaster for years to come.
Coming off perhaps the best offensive season by a catcher in the history of baseball, Mauer has all the contract leverage in the world. He is currently signed through 2010, but re-signing him to a long deal as soon as possible is obviously desirable.
On the free agent market, a player typically earns anywhere from $4 to $5 million per Win Above Replacement (WAR) annually. Considering various stints on the disabled list throughout Mauer's short career, he has amassed 27.9 WAR through about 4.3 seasons, which breaks down to about 6.48 WAR per full season. On the open market, Mauer could get roughly $30 million a year. That's just about the yearly payroll of the Florida Marlins.
And that's the last you will hear me talk of Mauer on the free agent market, as it cannot happen. Baseball would never be the same if there were a bidding war for the rights to a 26-year old catcher with Mauer's resume. Just about every head would roll in the Twins' organization if Mauer were allowed to walk.
Besides, if Mauer were gone, Twins' fans would burn the publicly-funded Target Field to the ground.
Clearly, the Twins cannot afford to let Mauer walk as a free agent. They also can't afford to let him enter his contract year without having signed a long-term extension. As Nick Nelson points out in the GM's Handbook, (which you should all buy. But more on this excellent book at a later date), an unsigned Mauer in 2010 would bring a plethora of distractions to the new Target Field.
The only other alternative to re-signing Mauer immediately would be to dangle him on on the trade market, where a few (read: two, from the northeastern United States) teams would enter a bidding war with Twins' general manager Bill Smith. It's not that I don't have confidence in Smith's negotiating ability (and I don't), but there is no equal value for Mauer. The Red Sox gave up a handful of their top-ten prospects for Victor Martinez, who is considerably inferior on offense and not in the same league defensively as Mauer.
While trading Mauer would give the Twins' farm system a much-needed replenishing, would it be worth giving up perhaps the best catcher in baseball history?
Probably not. No, the only realistic solution to the Joe Mauer situation is to re-sign him for the foreseeable future. That said, Mauer could very well desire more money than the Twins have available, much like Johan Santana did. But Mauer has expressed his desire to remain in his home state, even at a discount. That is awfully generous of him, but will the Twins be able to afford even the discount?
Mauer will almost certainly shatter all Twins' records for the highest contract ever issued, but from Minnesota's perspective, it must be made. No one will come save the day, "deus ex machina"-style. (Incidentally, Mauer's agent, Ron Shapiro was also the agent of Cal Ripken and Kirby Puckett, both of whom played their entire careers for the same team. If anyone is to "save the day," and convince Mauer to stay in Minnesota for a far-cheaper contract, it would probably be Shapiro.)
Mauer could very well argue for a re-structuring of his current contract, which would probably earn him well more than the $12.5 million he is due next year. I am guessing, though, that Mauer will accept what he is currently slated to receive next year and negotiate an extension. Ultimately, I envision Mauer re-signing with his home-town team and choosing family and friends over millions of dollars. Here is my estimate on Mauer's extension (with a full no-trade clause and various performance-based incentives):
2010: $12.5 million
2011: $14 million
2012: $17 million
2013: $19 million
2014: $19 million
2015: $23 million
2016: $23 million
2017: $26 million
2018: $26 million
Total: 8 years/$167 million
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