Alex Avila was the starting catcher for the AL All-Stars last week. I don't know who Alex Avila is. The only thing that is interesting or thought-provoking about Alex Avila, or his entry into the All-Star game, is that he made me realize that Joe Mauer was not voted in. In fact, I kind of forgot that Joe Mauer hadn't played half the season. The best player at his position in all of baseball...and I didn't notice he was gone? Is it because he plays for the Twins in the AL Central, and neither of those entities penetrate my sphere of baseball interest? Maybe. But when Hanley Ramirez, the best shortstop in the league, missed games and played poorly, you bet I noticed. So why the difference with Mauer? I think this might be because Joe Mauer is one of the most overrated players in all of baseball.
Mauer's had an awful year - he has been hurt more than half the time, and when he's played, his performance has been hardly reminiscent of his 2009 MVP season. Yes, his play as of late has boosted his batting average to around .300, but he's still getting on base less and is slugging .130 points below his career average. For all you non stat-savvy MAMBINO readers out there, this basically means he's not getting on base, and even when he does hit, he's hitting like I do in Zogsports softball. Just a lot of singles and an odd double every once in a while. Great for me, not good for a professional baseball player.
Oh, and he has zero home runs this season.
In 2009, Joe Mauer hit 28 home runs. His batting average was .365. Ichiro Suzuki, who is probably considered the most accomplished active hitter, has done this one time as a Mariner. Statistically speaking, he had one of the greatest years for a catcher ever. His award shelf speaks for itself; he won a gold glove, a silver slugger and an MVP. Beyond the stats? He was the best player on a Twins squad that went to the playoffs. He picked a really great year to be phenomenal; he was an impending free agent in 12 months time.
According to the ever reliable Cot's baseball contracts, before the 2010 season Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer signed the largest deal EVER for a catcher, at 8 years and an almost unbelievable $184 million dollars. But the deal just isn't the biggest ever for a catcher; it's one of the biggest free agent contracts in the history of North American professional sports. Only two $200 million plus contracts that Alex Rodriguez has signed and a $189 million dollar deal for the Captain, Derek Jeter, were richer than Mauer's agreement with the Twins. Even more amazing is that he got this contract from a team in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Not the Dodgers, the Cubs, the Mets or Yanks. The Minnesota Twins, a team that was on the verge of contraction 10 short years ago.
Just a refresher for everyone here:
I know who Alex Rodriguez is. He's a guy who hit 189 home runs before he signed the first of his two $200 million plus deals. He had made 5 All-Star teams and established himself as one of the greatest sluggers of his generation ALREADY. He won three MVPs by the time he signed his second deal and by that time had people discussing that he would be the guy to break Barry Bonds' all time home run record. He doesn't always say the right things or keep himself out of the headlines, but I don't think anyone, even just 5 years into his career, debated the merits of who Alex Rodriguez was, or how great of a player he is. I know who Alex Rodriguez is.
I know who Derek Jeter is. He has 3,000 hits. He's the guy who has won five championships. When he signed his $189 million dollar megadeal, he had already won 4 of those titles. He has miraculously carved out a legacy for himself even in the mountain of Yankee lore, where there is precious little real estate for new faces. Even amongst men who are human pillars of baseball in Babe Ruth, Lou Gerhig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra, Jeter stands not only in their company, but shoulder to shoulder. I know who Derek Jeter is.
I know who Joe Mauer is. But do you know who Joe Mauer is? In 6 1/2 seasons, he has hit 89 home runs, to go along with 479 RBI. He's made 4 All-Star teams, won 4 silver slugger awards, finished in the top 8 in MVP voting 4 times and won the 2009 AL MVP. He's probably most known for his incredible batting averages, which stands at .324 lifetime, good for 3rd best amongst active players. He's done all this while winning 4 gold gloves for his defense at catcher, which is known as the most demanding position in all of baseball. He doesn't play in New York, Boston or LA, and doesn't quite have the screen time that Jeter, A-Rod or Ortiz has. His face isn't as recognizable as those guys, though if he played on any of their teams, he probably would be.
But is Joe Mauer worth all that money? If his 2009 season, in which he was phenomenal, was simply his par for his course, then load up the truck and the money is his. But that is not his norm. He hit 28 home runs, 96 RBI and a 1.031 OPS. That's 15 more homers, 10 more RBIs and 100 points higher in OPS than his previous career high. He's been a pretty good player for his career, and extraordinary for a catcher, but even with all of his accomplishments, that 2009 season has to be looked at as the outlier.
If you look at the calendar, this deal looks even worse - he's 28 years old. A 28 year old CATCHER who's already had knee problems and has caught in parts of 8 seasons. Catchers age as well as uncovered white rice in the fridge...and if anyone reading this out there were Asian, you'd be laughing. But you're not. Sad.
The cons to not signing him were clear - he is the face of the franchise, literally. Good looking kid from Minneapolis who turned into an MVP and led his hometown Twins to the playoffs. He is the best catcher in the majors, when healthy, and is beloved by the community (He's like The Wire of Minnesota. And white people looooooovvvveee The Wire). He plays a position where less than a quarter of all starters hit over .270 and almost none are effective offensive players. His value over any generic replacement catcher is through the roof. But is that value enough to offset the fact that he has the 4th biggest contract in American professional sports history?
The unfortunate truth here is that Mauer will always be connected to the contract that he signed, and the team he signed it with. I don't really think people pay as much attention to how much A-Rod gets paid. For example, did you know A-Rod is getting $31 million dollars this year? Probably not, because money is never going to be an issue with the New York Yankees. But anytime there is a dip in performance from Joe, there will be concerns past his play. The Twins are not the Yankees or the Red Sox and thus Mauer NEEDS put up numbers somewhat similar to his 2009 season. Anything less makes his gaudy $23 million annual paycheck not just an overpayment to an underachieving player, but it also represents the opportunity cost of a small-market team allocating that much of its payroll to one player. Joe Mauer isn't overrated just because he gets paid that much - it's the other way around. He got that money because he was vastly overrated.
One more thing to keep in mind - He's never won a playoff game before. 0-9 in the playoffs in 3 appearances. I'm not forking over all that money for someone that might be breaking down, plays a brutal position and quite frankly, isn't a winner yet. Prove me wrong Joe.