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:
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.