Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Mauer Mystery Revisited

Joe Christensen wrote a good piece for the Star Tribune earlier this week delving deeper into Joe Mauer's season-long injury woes.

Within the article, Justin Morneau suggests that the public backlash against Mauer might have been lessened if the team hadn't initially put out such a vague and mysterious diagnosis:
"Joe's not one to make excuses," Morneau said. "The reality is, he tried to come back too soon from knee surgery. Could [the Twins] have helped him out if they said he never built back his strength, instead of calling it bilateral leg weakness? I think it would have been a lot different if they said, he tried to come back too soon so he could help our team win."
Morneau is sticking up for his friend and teammate, and there may be some validity to what he's saying, but I think he's missing the point. As I recall, the Twins made it fairly clear at the time that Mauer's ailment related to his offseason surgery, and I believe most people understood that the catcher had rushed himself back before he was ready. That was evident in his paltry April numbers and his very quick trip to the disabled list.

This resource,, has information for people who want to help injured players like this out and get them back into the game faster.

Regardless of how you want to label Mauer's leg issues, though, the explanations we continue to hear ring hollow. Granted, he faced an abbreviated recovery timetable during the offseason because he didn't undergo surgery until December. But that still gave him two months to prepare for spring training, and once he arrived in Fort Myers he spent several weeks rehabbing there as well.

Mauer started a total of 16 games at catcher between spring training and the regular season before being shut down and placed on the DL, where he'd remain for over two months. Then, from his June 17 return through the end of August, Mauer batted .302 but managed a measly .375 slugging percentage, notching only 14 doubles and one homer in 255 plate appearances. He continued to complain of leg weakness and rarely caught more than two or three games in a row.

Catching is of course very hard on the knees and Mauer undoubtedly set himself back by forcing an early return. But the surgery -- which Bill Smith stressed at the time was a "minor procedure" -- is now nine months old and between the offseason, spring training and his DL stint, Mauer has had no less than five months to work on rehabbing it. That's more time than he's spent playing. His persisting issues simply don't add up; a healthy 28-year-old body should not recover this slowly.

Christensen's article continues to downplay the notion that Mauer is being afflicted by anything more than post-surgery complications. A passing reference is made to the "frenzy of speculation" about a "more serious illness" that arose when the bilateral leg weakness diagnosis was first announced. However, I've heard from multiple (albeit secondhand) sources that the Twins are privately concerned that there are deeper issues in play.

Hopefully none of those whispers will turn out to have substance. Mauer has looked much better at the plate lately, with a .346/.433/.538 hitting line since August 20th. Of course, the caveat is that August 20th marks the last time he caught in back-to-back games. At no point this season has he shown that he's capable of producing offensively while regularly crouching behind the plate. Perhaps Mauer's many years of catching have simply taken their toll and his legs aren't equipped for it anymore.

Reporters are doing a good job of shedding more and more light on this troubling situation, but I still don't believe we know the full story. For the time being, Mauer's future as a catcher is very much in doubt, which means finding another competent option at the position should be a high-ranking priority for the front office in the upcoming offseason.


Anonymous said...

And to think we traded Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps. That has to be on a list of worst Twins trades of all time given timing and what happen the year that follows. I know hind sight is 20/20 but why do the Twins insist on spreading everything so thin? Look at SS and 2nd. We have two players there that are so far below par that we put Cuddy there, an OF, and it's an improvement. The Twins this year just remind me of a co-ed softball team where we have to find a way to hide half of the team and expect the other half to carry us.

Nick N. said...

The Twins this year just remind me of a co-ed softball team where we have to find a way to hide half of the team and expect the other half to carry us.


frightwig said...

That is a great line, Anonymous. Souhan only wishes he had ever thought of something half as clever.

About Mauer, I think the Twins did him no favors by insisting the surgery was a "minor procedure" and that he should have no trouble being ready to start the season. It's the left knee, the same knee he tore up in 2004; and when they did surgery to repair it back then, the doctors took some of the cartilage out of that knee. The left knee is probably going to bother him his whole life. Any kind of surgery that he needs to alleviate pain in that knee joint, I would suggest, is nothing "minor." I think there always was a fair chance that the latest surgery might fail to alleviate his pain or that there might be complications to his rehab.

Months ago, the Twins could have said, 'Yes, this surgery was a big deal, and Joe's knee just needs more time to rehab.' Instead, they indulged in happy talk and let fans and media wonder, 'Why is a healthy young man taking so long to recover from a minor surgery and LEG WEAKNESS??!"

Anonymous said...

Get Mauer in to see Andy Pettite's HGH doctor, he'll be good as new in no time.

SBG said...

My uh-oh moment was when it was made known that Mauer was receiving lubrication injections in his knee during spring training.

Justin said...

Maybe the best thing for everybody (except Mauer) at this point would be for him to have a career-ending injury so the Twins can collect the insurance money. Ugh.

kirby96 said...

Obviously just speculation, but all this off the record mumbling from people 'close' to the organization (which ive heard as well) causes me to wonder if its some sort of mental issue

Anonymous said...

The mental issue Mauer has is that he hasn't accepted that he can't catch any more. The dude can still hit as proven by his recent slash line shown by Nick. With a top two or three pick I'm hoping they can draft their heir apparent. For immediate help I suggest the Reds catcher who's a FA after this season. I know he's old but he can still play.

Yoshii said...

Morneau is gone next season and will be traded for a mid tier catcher.

TheCaptain said...

I think a large portion of the fan base would have a lot more respect Bill Smith if he and the front office were more direct in informing people what the real ailment is. Not to say anyone thinks he's done a good job managing personnel but damn, level with us. The fact that everything has been so downplayed when it's so apparent that there is more to the situation than post surgery soreness is infuriating.

Anonymous said...

At age 27, coming into this year, "many years of catching " does not apply to Mauer compared to other veteran catchers. Who can tell us what the average recovery time is for a football player who gets arthroscopic surgery? The point is ... Mauers knee is jacked. This is likely the 'whispered' worry behind the scene. Mauer is a bum. The twins trainers and medical staff are bums. As far as Morneau goes..... can any say "CTE" . His brain may be turning to protoplasm as we write. Can anybody say Terry Schaivo or Mike Webster? How come this is not considered .... the CTE issue? No foresight.

Anonymous said...

What did Mauer do after his first all star game? He said "I want to get out of new York and get to my cabin, it made out of real Lincoln logs. I want to cut grass and relax". This is an accurate paraphrase. AUTISM????? Really .... mow grass?

Anonymous said...

Since Joe Mauer entered the pros... how did it become an axiom, "catching is dangerous?" Demanding?... yes, but looking at Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, etc... we didn't hear this B.S. Nick... Buster Posey wasn't hurt by the demanding 'crouch position' (which Mauer can't handle and never will due to the deterioration in his left knee), but by getting bulled over. That's the only dangerous part. But how many times have we heard how Mauer takes his lumps from tipped/foul balls and them like? I have NEVER heard a team... including announcers, prior to this year repeatedly 'educate' and remind the fans on what a tough position playing catcher is. He's been treated like a baby; I never heard such a high volume of clap trap applied toward defending any other catcher - or the position - in my life. Now you (Nick) and plenty of other folks repeat like brainwashed automatons how "dangerous" and demanding this position is. Wake up. Ya'all drank the cool aid a long time ago. Mauer's knee is screwed. I'd bet money he will never be the same. Can anyone say, chondromalacia, or worse? Wake up you Mauer "lovers"... you're going to see the so-called Mauer "haters" are correct. The only whiners are the bums who have to compare the notion that showing up to their job means Mauer must play hurt and show up. Only an idiot would expect him to play hurt. The problem is he is hurt. It's only getting worse for Mauer, he's hurt bad. A 27 year-old (prior to the start of this season) doesn't have a problem healing UNLESS his body is injured/deteriorated to a degree that prevents thorough healing. Wrong decisions are now obvious. Bad advice, bad training, bad PR, IMG managment, etc... all have added up to make this Joey's nightmare. But Joey doesn't - nor ever - has helped himself; he has been guided and handled to a degree that he is finally learning that life has a way of throwing him (and all of us) a curve ball. And the only curve ball Mauer has ever faced up to this point in his life is in a ball game.

Anonymous said...

Mild Pneumonia for Mauer: Another Monkey on Mauer's Back.

How can the trainers, docs, and coaches not be heavily scrutinized in light of Joe Mauer's litany of physical problems? What a joke. What is he eating? How is he training. I say over training, wrong training, with a big dose of ignorance and perhaps... stupidity. Mild?!!! What. Another PR mistake. They should have lied at this point and "shut him down" for whatever reason the 'management' deemed appropriate. This is NOT Mauer bashing; it is intense questioning in the face of a farce. These jokers (coaches et al.)... Mauer included, cannot help but appear to be a comical bunch of bumbling fools. If you think this is hyperbole, then you obviously like being handled like Joey... with kid gloves on your bottom. Somebody please get these guys diapers.

Anonymous said...

I think Joe is breathing mold spores in his mommy's basement where he still plays whiffle ball and video games with Joe Nathan. Maybe he needs fresh air for his lungs to clear his pneumonia. Or maybe he's been flying too much - besides just with the team, shooting his commercials that IMG and Shapiro wants him to do.

Josh said...

Clearly we need a competent option as insurance if Mauer is unable to go as a full-time catcher. Sadly, the Gardenhire-driven talent evaluation side of the team still thinks that Drew Butera is a more than adequate option as a backup.

As of 18 Sept
WAR: -1.4
OPS: .421
OPS+: 17 (100 is MLB average)

Drew Butera is no longer even acceptable as an MLB player. He is arguably the worst hitter in baseball and simply can't function in this league right now as anything other than a defensive replacement, which isn't something you can waste a roster spot on at catcher, especially a guy who can't only give plus D at that one spot.

He needs to go for a guy who can ADD value to this team, but I expect Gardy to keep him around and play him too much. (aka, AT ALL)

Ed Bast said...

My 2-yr old niece had pnuemonia last winter. She was back to day care in 3 days.

They should probably plan on sitting Joey for the first month next season too. After all, he's at his best when he's absolutely 100% healthy - you don't want to take any chances with this one.

Mike said...

@ed- Really now. I'm as skeptical about the Twins organization as almost anyone else. But think about the comparison you just made. Playing professional baseball is not exactly the equivalent of a toddler being able to attend daycare.

And is there any benefit for the Twins or Joe Mauer to him playing right now? The doctors at the Mayo advised him to sit out two weeks. Who would gain anything by having Mauer go out there? It would simply set him back farther so he could play in some meaningless games and would let all the whiners out there whine some more about how Mauer's production is low while he tries to play hurt/sick.

Ed Bast said...

"And is there any benefit for the Twins or Joe Mauer to him playing right now?"

Okay, let's make a rule where Mauer plays only in games when the team starts +/-, say, 5 games in or out of first place. Otherwise, what's the point?

Or you could say, isn't the definition of a "professional athlete" one who comes to the park every day, regardless of how well or poorly the team is doing, and performs to the best of his ability?

It's a really fine line when you start to say, well, the season's a bust so what's the point? If I'm anybody else in that Twins clubhouse, I'm asking, what's the point of ME playing any more?