Monday, June 27, 2011

The First Step

It's happening. The Twins are finally easing up on their stringent "Catcher Only" rule with Joe Mauer, a reversal which -- while basically necessitated by circumstances -- strikes me as significant.

Although he's returned to the lineup after missing two months due to leg weakness, Mauer still seems to be dragging along. He continues to hit the ball into the ground about 70 percent of the time, he's bickering with pitchers, and his struggles in the No. 3 spot epitomize the lineup's ineptitude.

Moreover, despite the club's insistence that they view Mauer as their starting catcher, he's increasingly becoming a part-time player in that role. Since returning from the disabled list, he's started only six of the team's nine games behind the plate, and yesterday wasn't able to crack the lineup due to the lack of a DH in an NL park.

If his usage pattern thus far is any indication, Mauer may not be capable of catching more than two out of every three games, and that presents a problem if the Twins want to keep him in the lineup alongside Jim Thome on a regular basis.

The obvious solution, of course, is to hand Mauer a first baseman's mitt and start giving him sporadic starts there while Justin Morneau recovers from neck surgery. Realizing this, the Twins have begun working Mauer out at first, which may be leading toward his first appearance at a position other than catcher as a major-leaguer. Ron Gardenhire told reporters that Mauer would have been in the lineup yesterday if he could play first.

I have gone on record as saying I think a position switch for Mauer is an inevitability at this point, and that the Twins would be wise to start facilitating that transition as soon as possible. Could this be the first step?


perkins said...

As much as it's necessary to move him, it will still be very, very weird to see Joe Mauer anywhere other than behind the plate for the first time. I'm curious, though. Let's say (and this is TOTALLY hypothetical) that Mauer at first pans out in the long run. What then of Morneau when he returns (next year presumably) if they still want Mauer to do some work at first? Set him as DH when Mauer's not behind the plate? Move him to third? Dress him up in the bear mascot costume? It kind of seems to create a new situation altogether with personnel if Joe moves.

perkins said...

Not that they wouldn't work around it, I think it just makes for interesting conversation because it really does change the dynamic of the team with Joe anywhere other than catcher.

Anonymous said...

ha ha, the Twinkies are back to sucking. Morneau and Mauer have no heart, or pain tolerance for that matter. How much salary do they have locked up between those two babies?

Anonymous said...

Cuddyer is a free agent after this season, Morneau is injury prone and the farm system doesn't seem to have any viable candidates for 1B.

In that scenario, having Mauer as a viable backup at 1B make sense.

However, that also requires you to DH or bench Morneau everytime Mauer plays first base. Every time Morneau or Mauer gets the day at DH, the regular DH either has to play the field (replacing someone else) or take the day off.

Do we really want to pay Mauer and Morneau big bucks, if they have to switch positions or DH every 3rd game?

If Mauer can't play catcher on a regular basis, then perhaps he should be moved to 3B? Putting Mauer at 3B would allow the Twins to keep both Morneau and Mauer in the lineup, with minimal inconvenience on the regular DH. Valencia could be moved to 2B, allowing us to DFA Casilla.

ANother thing to consider, is that every time Mauer takes a day off from behind the plate, we would likely get Butera's bat in the lineup. Butera would need to be replaced with a catcher that can hit. Fieldding a career .188 hitter every 3rd game or so, is not a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Yes it looks like Gardy and the FO have concluded to that it's time to transition Mauer - finally! I think he belongs in RF with his arm and athletic ability. Seems like a Natural fit for him. Plus Kubel can't field and can then DH full time with Cuddyer being used as trade bait. It would be great to see them put together a pkg for 1 of the Yankees stud catching prospects.

Anonymous said...

Twins play Monday, no off day

the messenjah said...

Like it was said above Monday 6/27 is not an off day.

Also if you look at Mauer's catching history he usually gets the day game off after a night game.

Ed Bast said...

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's all good and well that Gardy's throwing this out there, but in the end Primadonna Joe is calling the shots here. This is a guy who refused to DH while his team was historically bad offensively (and the team enabled it) and who refused a rehab assignment even though he clearly needed it (and the team enabled it). And according to Souhan Mauer has not, in fact, worked out at first, and the situation is becoming problematic in the clubhouse.

This is all good in theory, but let's not forget who we're dealing with here, both in terms of a player whose priorities have changed and an organization that enables such behavior.

Displaced Twins Fan said...

"Do we really want to pay Mauer and Morneau big bucks, if they have to switch positions or DH every 3rd game?"

...too late.

Moving Mauer is obviously a last resort for a team and FO down to their last straw. I have been a huge proponent of never seeing Mauer any where but behind the plate and while I still firmly believe that his value comes from the production potential you have from a catcher's position....a move now seem's (as Nick put it) inevitable. Sad.

The problem that is created with his move (which was mentioned by "Anonymous") is now you have displaced Morny, or Cuddy, most likely forcing you to trade 1 or both of them if you want to keep Thome in the line-up or make the more obvious move and utilize Kubel as DH full-time once Thome retires. Morneau's value will be significantly decreased based on his injuries so he should not be traded. Cuddy is the obvious choice for trade bait, but now you will trade the primary leader of the team. I am not here to argue whether or not Cuddy is worth his salary - that ship has sailed. However, Mauer has not proven to be a vocal leader and with his nagging injuries he has not yet been able to lead on the field either. He is simply a "Nice Guy". These guys need someone in the clubhouse who leads and Cuddy has been that guy. Hard to put a price on that. He will play anywhere, and do whatever it takes to help the team. Great example for the parade of youngsters who will undoubtedly be getting their shots.

Danny Valencia is coming into his own on the hot corner - so leave that well enough alone. Mauer would look like a fish out of water in right.....

I feel like trying to put him anywhere but behind the plate is like forcing a square peg in a round hole.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason Mauer is going to play 1B is because Morneau is hurt not because it's time to move him off catcher. In any case he played half the game at catcher on Sunday. On the days he doesn't play Catcher if he can actually play 1B then Thome can play DH. This wouldn't be possible with Morneau around. Mauer has never played 1B so that's assuming he can even play below average defense at the position.

Nick N. said...

Twins play Monday, no off day

Oops, fixed that, thanks.

Also if you look at Mauer's catching history he usually gets the day game off after a night game.

Right, and they generally have a day game after a night game twice a week. Is it acceptable to have him out of the lineup (or at DH forcing another good hitter out of the lineup) two times every week?

Anonymous said...

A lot of catchers finished their careers at other positions and were still valuable. (Yogi Berra comes to mind). Robin Yount had to move from SS to the OF. Is Josh Hamilton worth less than Mauer because he plays OF? What about Pujols or Fielder? Sometimes I think we all get so caught up in Mauer's ability to hit at catcher that we forget his real value is hitting - period. I still believe he can be a good right fielder. Keep Moneau at 1B and Kubel at DH. Very nice core of middle of the lineup hitters. This team will be fine once they're healthy - next year.

USAFChief said...

"If his usage pattern thus far is any indication, Mauer may not be capable of catching more than two out of every three games"

Just as a reminder, Mauer's "usage pattern" over the course of his career indicates Mauer will have trouble even maintaining a "two out of every three games" workload.

Mauer, remember, has started at catcher in under 59% of all Twins games since his debut, and that number will drop when 2011 is complete.

Those who continue to maintain the belief that Mauer has to be a catcher to have "value" apparently don't care about the "value" of being on the field.

CA said...

A position switch for Mauer was always going to happen eventually, but it's a big blow that it seems to need to happen so soon. When the Twins signed him for $184M, they were paying for him to be an super-premium catcher, not a first baseman (or even a corner outfielder) who will hit for significantly less power than his peers at the position. That he might need to be switched less than a year into that contract is a huge disappointment.

JimCrikket said...

It's much too soon to assume that seeing Mauer take a few casually rolled ground balls at 1B signals a position change. Absent further health/injury issues, he'll continue to primarily be a catcher (unless more pitchers complain about having to pair up with him behind the plate).

This is about increasing his value by getting him in the line up more, reducing stress on his body, and having a quality hitter available to back up Morneau, not replace him (yet... but when his contract is up, who knows?).

IF Mauer does eventually become primarily an OF or 1B, what makes us so sure he wouldn't actually increase his power? Power comes from the legs and there's no question in my mind that his legs would stay stronger if he's not catching.

It's all just idle chatter now anyway, because until the organization quits pampering him, we'll never know what he's capable of.