Joe Mauer Not so Freely Available

Whenever a big-time player hits revocable August waivers, it’s customary for some people to initially freak out, and then for other people to calm them down by saying that lots of players are put on revocable waivers and it doesn’t really mean anything. Obviously, as you know, that’s true. Most of your favorite players will have been put on waivers. Hardly anything will happen to any of them beyond that. It’s all just something that happens, something that teams do because there’s not a lot of reason not to do it.

The big-time waiver player of the day right now is one Joe Mauer. Ken Rosenthal initially reported that Mauer had been placed on waivers, and now Rosenthal has reported that Mauer has cleared waivers. In theory, that means that Mauer can be traded, and if he were traded before the end of the month, he’d be eligible for his new team’s playoff roster. Joe Mauer almost certainly isn’t going to be traded within the next few days, if he’s ever traded at all. Guy’s a popular, productive, hometown player. But this is still something we can talk about, because do you have anything better to talk about? Right, so let’s talk about Joe Mauer.

Let’s say that again, just to be clear: Joe Mauer almost certainly isn’t going to be traded. Even if the Twins wanted to trade Mauer — and we don’t know that they do — his contract includes full no-trade protection, and Mauer is presumably fond of where he is. Maybe things started to change in 2011, when Mauer drew criticism for under-performance. Maybe Mauer would like to get away from an organization that isn’t making visible progress forward. But this would all be speculation, and in a case like this there’s little sense in speculating.

Here’s the deal with Joe Mauer. He is a very good player. He’s one of the rare players who walks as often as he strikes out. He’s maintained a career batting average on balls in play of .343, and that’s over thousands and thousands of plate appearances, implying that Mauer’s beautiful line-drive swing generates line-drive results. You might’ve also heard that Mauer can catch a little bit. He’s catching less often than he used to, and he’s playing first base and DHing more often than he used to, but this year Mauer has started 60 games behind the plate, and finished 55 of them. There’s a reason that catchers get a boost in the WAR formula.

But here’s the rest of the deal with Joe Mauer, laid out very simply:

Year Age Salary ($million)
2013 30 23
2014 31 23
2015 32 23
2016 33 23
2017 34 23
2018 35 23

In the middle of next April, Joe Mauer will turn 30 years old. He is under guaranteed contract for the next six seasons after this one, with a consistent $23 million annual salary. Last March, the Cardinals signed Yadier Molina through 2017. Last May, the Diamondbacks signed Miguel Montero through 2017. Molina is months older than Mauer, and Montero is months younger. Between 2013-2017, Mauer will earn $40 million more than Molina, and $55 million more than Montero. And then Mauer is guaranteed another $23 million in 2018, too.

Let’s put it this way: it’s not a surprise that Joe Mauer just cleared waivers. He’s caught in an awkward position that he might not personally recognize as being awkward, where he’s a very talented player signed to too big of a contract. At present, the Mauer contract doesn’t yet look like a catastrophe like, I don’t know, the Mike Hampton contract, but there’s a spectrum with these things, and Mauer’s contract looks more bad than good, even though he’s producing. Mauer’s got a .403 OBP, which is just outstanding. He hasn’t been a superstar since 2009, and he was younger in 2009.

We don’t know exactly how the Twins feel about Joe Mauer right now, and likewise, we don’t know exactly how Joe Mauer feels about the Twins. Just for the sake of advancing this article, let’s pretend like it’s a given that the Twins want to move Mauer, and that Mauer is willing to be moved. So, let’s pretend like Joe Mauer is available. Just how available is he, really?

The Dodgers kind of turned everything on its head when they purchased Massachusetts, so now it’s hard to say what’s wise, or what’s possible. The money game might be changing. But it’s very hard to imagine that any team would want to accept Mauer at his whole contract, as evidenced by Mauer’s passing through waivers. The Twins would have to chip money in — a not insignificant sum of money, at that — and then one imagines the Twins wouldn’t want to just ship a guy like Joe Mauer away in a pure salary dump. It’s more complicated than that, because he’s Joe Mauer, and he means a lot to the organization and to the community. The Mariners gave away Ichiro for nothing, but that was a very different situation.

Because Mauer is under contract through 2018, and because he’s more likely to get worse than he is to stay the same or get better, it would probably be in the Twins’ best interests to move him. Because Mauer is who Mauer is and because the Twins are terrible, that would be challenging. Because moving Mauer would likely require the addition of money, that would be challenging in a different way. The Dodgers swallowed up Adrian Gonzalez and a whole lot more just days ago, and Mauer’s been better this season than Gonzalez has, so you can never know anything for sure, but consider that the overwhelming response to the Dodgers’ move was that the Dodgers were a little insane.

It would come as a complete surprise if Joe Mauer were moved at any point in the reasonably near future. One should never plan on surprises, because they’re surprises, and that’s the definition of a surprise. Actually, no, one should definitely plan on there being surprises in the future. One should just never plan on surprises that are very specific.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

41 Responses to “Joe Mauer Not so Freely Available”

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  1. Justin says:

    Twins should eat 18MM and let someone take him for 6/120.

    Must be another AL team though – where he can catch 75-80 games and split the rest at 1b/dh

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    • Jack says:

      I think the only team that he’s worth close to 6/120 for is the Twins. The Yankees are cutting payroll, the Red Sox probably aren’t up for another huge contract after dumping 3 onto the Dodgers. The Tigers already have two highly paid 1B/DH guys, plus a C/DH guy coming back next year. The Rangers also have a C/DH type who is at least comparable to Mauer and cheaper if they bring him back. The Angels also have a lot of 1B/DH types and have recently spent a ton of money on Pujols/Wilson. As for NL teams if you want to go there, the Cardinals and Giants are set a catcher for a long time and aren’t rich enough to add that type of contract while paying their current players. The Phillies are set at catcher too, and are already full of Walrus sized deals for underachievers. The Mets aren’t spending as much as they are trying to rebuild. The Cubs are even worse off than the Mets. THe only team left that could both have a chance at affording him and a possible desire are (surprise surprise) the Dodgers, actually have a solid catcher in AJ Ellis and a new highly paid first baseman so they don’t even make that much sense. Who would want him?

      The Twins at least can keep him as their star and face of the franchise. not worth what their paying him, but worth more than any other team would peg him at.

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      • TKDC says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Posts like this are generally a little silly. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with any of your specific points, but there are 29 teams in baseball, and at least 20 would theoretically go for a 6/120 contract. You discussed 11, how about the others? Miami? White Sox? Milwaukee? Seattle?

        And I might disagree about the Red Sox and Mets being necessarily out. There are plenty of historical examples of trades that surprise everyone.

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    • Matt NW says:

      Remember boys, its good that these guys sign “too big” contracts.

      Put simply:

      Stick it to ownership. Take every single dollar available, and then if you don’t play well enough to “earn” it, big deal… sports are tough as shit. And look at who owns these teams. These persons/people/groups of investors are not, generally speaking, enjoyable.

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  2. BookWorm says:

    This contract gets described as an albatross a lot, and while it may turn out to be true, I’m glad you pointed to the fact that Mauer’s “producing” this year. His OBP is second in the league, and his BA is in the top 10 (though his SLG is nowhere to be found these days).

    In terms of the whole “hometown” angle, there’s a lot of ambivalence in the local, mainstream sports reporting as far as Mauer goes. Pieces like this are cringeworthy in their attempts to make him a scapegoat for all of the team’s problems. With that much time left on his contract, you’d think that the sports media would have the foresight to want to see him stay healthy and not play through injuries…but they’d rather make him seem soft and out of touch.

    Still, for him to be worth the money he’ll be making in the years ahead, that power is going to have to come back. And given what an outlier 2009 seems to be at this point, I don’t know if that will happen.

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  3. Tyler says:

    I thought the Yankees may put in a claim and forget about bringing back Cano and Granderson long-term, which should be the thinking anyway.

    Isn’t it nuts how quickly these long-term, big money deals to guys in their upper 20s/ low 30s turn ugly?

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    • Drew says:

      Are you nuts?!? You’d rather have Mauer long-term than Cano and Granderson? That’s crazy.

      Your second point, not so crazy. No 35 year old is worth $20+million, let alone a 40 year old worth $30+million. I’m looking at you Arod

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  4. Oliver says:

    The problem isn’t his contract per se, which is an overpay but not an obscene one if he’s healthy and catching. It’s that the Twins are truly dismal as an organization and don’t have the resources or talent to compete. The minors are barren, they have no rotation for 2013. The lineup was oddly productive for a while but seems to have stumbled again. Even if the Twins cleared his salary, I don’t even trust them to spend the money wisely.

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    • rea says:

      Strange how, just a couple of years ago, the Twins, with essentially the same managment as now, were regarded as one of the best-run teams in baseball.

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      • Oliver says:

        Sure. But the rap sheet now is pretty long, and anyone who thought critically about the Twins saw it coming. I think it stretches pretty much the breadth and depth of the organization.

        Why is there no talent in the minors? It wasn’t shoddy drafting, it was intentionally drafting low-upside talent. It hasn’t panned out, to no one’s surprise. People were making “Twins-type pitcher” jokes in what, 2007, 2008? This was a long time in the making, and was visible from space.

        Why do they fritter away money? Beats the hell out of me. Instead of just resigning JJ Hardy they spent almost the equivalent money it would have taken to sign him on Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Brian Dozier, and Jamey Carroll. For example.

        Their scouting and development is deeply troubling. They take low-upside guys, but even then they don’t really seem to pan out. Their medical staff is downright terrifying, and the team’s own pitching has been calling them on it for a while. See Carl Pavano on this, even if he was more polite than Dan Osterbrock–

        For comparison–
        Add Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano to the list of pitchers this team might have broken.

        Some of that can be attributed to Bill Smith. Some of it belongs to Terry Ryan. But I think there’s just a deep malaise in this organization, and no real will to change it. Just for example, Glen Perkins in a fangraphs podcast a while back made it sound an awful lot like he was the only one in the organization who really understood or cared about advanced stats, which is just crazy.

        Sorry, that was kind of a long, discombobulated ramble, but I think those snippets might at least give some idea as to why some Minnesota fans think this organization is totally broken.

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  5. Nolan says:

    Mauer to the Dodgers for Zach Lee, Garret Gould and a 2010 Hummer filled with hundred dollar bills.

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  6. MauerPower says:

    It’s not even the offense that’s the problem, although lately it’s been yucky. They need pitching! pitching pitching pitching

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  7. ValueArb says:

    If Mauer wants to win, and not get saddled with the blame for the future years of his home town losing (his contract is almost a quarter of total payroll, and maybe half their discretionary payroll), he will snap waive his NTC.

    The Red Sox just gave away Adrian Gonzales in order to unload two bad contracts, yet Joe Mauer would be far more valuable to them, is a year younger, and only costs $1.5M/year more on the same length deal (which would only be 13% of their available payroll) with presumably no real prospects needed.

    Think about it. Mauer has a higher career wOBA than Gonzales, and both are regarded as excellent defenders at first (Mauers UZR is otherworldly due to small sample size). Playing him at first full time shouldn’t yield much less than Gonzales, yet Mauer can still catch, and Lavarnway is an excellent platoon partner at the catchers spot for Joe.

    This makes too much sense for all three parties not to happen.

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    • Bob says:

      In a world where 1B is valued for defense and OBP, this analysis might make sense. Given that most teams would like more power, and power guys tend to be poor fielders and therefore better suited to 1B (rather than, say, C)… It isn’t going to happen.

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      • ValueArb says:

        We are talking about the Sox, who supposedly know how to value such things.

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      • Sori for You says:

        Mauer playing pepper with the green monster for 81 games a year? As a Yankee fan… i do not want to see that.

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  8. Eric says:

    Mauer for lackey and salty

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  9. PrinceOfBeers says:

    The Twins should trade Mauer to the Dodgers as a salary dump. The Dodgers would have a real catcher to answer the Giants’ 1B-faking-C in Buster Posey.

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    • Jack says:

      Not to go off topic, but Buster Posey is at least an average defensive catcher, if not better, and certainly better than Mauer. Posey also plays Catcher more consistently than Mauer. I’m assuming this is just a Dodger fan troll spouting nonsense.

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      • Posey and Mauer are both similar catcher in terms of defense.

        Man who bleeds blue

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      • For clarity sake, I’m going off of multiple years and there not’s a big enough gap in defensive capability to say one way or the other, though maybe Mauer is worse because of age. However, I hate the way Posey plays the catching game. Every time he blocks the plate on a throw and gets steam rolled, I wonder if he’ll ever learn his lesson. If their contracts were equal, I would rather have Posey because he’s the better hitter now, but I would stick him at 1st, if A-gon wasn’t there, and have Ellis catch.

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      • RobM says:

        Posey is not a better defensive catcher than Mauer.

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      • Wat says:

        When was the last time Posey got steamrolled? Maybe you should focus on your mediocre pitching staff getting steamrolled by mid pack offenses.

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      • Mediorce pitching staff? The Dodgers have been a good pitching staff all season, I don’t know if it has happened again since but I saw him get steamrolled in LA last series. I’m not saying anything truly bad about the guy, and I have no idea why you have to resort to childish insults.

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    • jim says:

      aj ellis?

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    • ValueArb says:

      Yes, the Dodgers control a very valuable catcher, very cheap, in AJ Ellis, but should trade for Mauer so they pay $23m per year to have two unplatoonable catchers, with no DH spot and with first base occupied by $21M AGon so no where to rest Mauer during most of the season.

      Do you work for Colletti?

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    • Wat says:

      Faking C? You sir are a dumbfuck.

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  10. Tony says:

    If you tried to sum up this article or essay rather in 1 sentence, you couldnt, because its about nothing!

    I know nothing is clear right now because nothing is really happening with Mauer except that he was placed on waivers, but OP should of waited for more information.

    Also “when LA bought Massachusets” jeez calm down dude, there just the new Yankees now what does it matter.

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  11. Adam W says:

    $23MM is about what the market will bear for a 4-WAR player, correct? A straight-up waiver claim is at least defensible for any team with a hole to fill and financial flexibility.

    Potential trade talks become more juicy if the Twins kick in $23MM to offset the last year of the contract. If you assume 5 WAR in 2013 and an aging curve of -0.5 WAR/year, then Mauer’s contract becomes a break-even proposition assuming he doesn’t miss significant time. Maybe a better medical staff and/or a different utilization pattern helps him achieve that.

    With all that said, the Red Sox would seem like a logical home for Mauer, and not just because they coveted him so much a few years ago. They have flexability to take on the contract, the flexability to work him into a C/1B/DH/LF platoon, and the flexability on the farm to work a deal.

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  12. Nathan Nathan says:

    I’d love to see Mauer go to a team like the Padres or the Mariners where his high BB/K rate and high batting average on balls in play would likely make him less susceptible to their home parks’ power killing park effects. Almost nobody slugs well in those parks. Sort of a left handed Edger Martinez who plays catcher half time.

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    • Dscottncc says:

      To bad the Mariners have already taken care of their catching position via Jesus Montero. He would be good for both of those ballparks however, but the payroll of those two clubs just can’t take the hit.

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      • Chris From Bothell says:

        Er, no, to hear Dave Cameron talk about it, Montero will be a first baseman by the time Zunino comes out of 2014 Spring Training with the team.

        I think Mauer would be an awesome fit, and a quantum leap above Miguel Olivo.

        You’re right that, as with many clubs, the money is the problem.

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  13. Dscottncc says:

    Bring him to Chicago!!!!! We are known for our overpaid contracts (hello Soriano), and the team could be ready to compete by 2014 (yes i’m optimistic). Three things that the Cubs organizations have lacked in the last 5 years are attributes Mauer can provide:
    1. OBP- Yeah we have a tendency to sign free swingers.
    2. Leadership- Can’t really rely on guys like Zambrano, and Aramis Ramirez to lead a team.
    3. A good catcher- Soto was a bust, we have no good prospects, and the position has been a throw away this past year.

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  14. Mr Punch says:

    Mike Hampton, a bust after getting his big contract, is not at all the right comparison – Todd Helton is. He’s remained a good hitter and a good fielder, but he’s been vastly overpaid for his current output, and he’s been immovable despite trade rumors. For the Twins it’s a budgeting issue, and a question of expectations for the out-years – can they afford to carry that weight? Can they eat some of the contract and still come out ahead?

    Adrian Gonzalez is a different proposition: he’s worth much more to the Dodgers than to anyone else. He’s a very good player, local, Chicano; they’re a new ownership of an underachieving, reputationally damaged (but very expensive) franchise in a huge market, facing aggressive competition, negotiating a long-term media deal.

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  15. Dan says:

    Looks like Carl Pohlad’s war, which he waged from about his early 80’s to his death (in his early-mid 90’s) paid off. He got the free stadium (either for his kid or out of a more general, reflexive Montgomery Burns-like fervor), and now everyone is talking about how Mauer is “too expensive”. This brings the score of the PR game to about 128-1 in favor of the owners, with the 1 being something Marvin Miller said in 1974.

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  16. Craig says:

    If you want to know why the Twins suck this year:

    They are 8th in MLB in wRC+
    They are 30th in MLB in xFIP.

    Mauer is not the problem.

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