As part of SI.com's 2014 fantasy baseball preview, our experts Michael Beller and David Gonos will be engaging in a series of debates. For our sixth and final debate, they argue whether you should target Carlos Santana or Joe Mauer when drafting a catcher. To read the rest of our debates, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Michael Beller makes the case for Carlos Santana:
In all five of our previous debates, I could easily understand supporting Gonos and going the other way. Jason Kipnis vs. Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo vs. Alex Rios, Stephen Strasburg vs. Adam Wainwright, Prince Fielder vs. Joey Votto and David Wright vs. Evan Longoria. While I believed in my side in all of those, I don't think any of them had an objective right or wrong answer. This one is different.
The only way I could see taking Joe Mauer over Carlos Santana is if I were in a batting average league. In OBP leagues, Santana's impressive walk rate cuts deeply into Mauer's rate advantage. Everywhere else across the board, Santana outpaces Mauer, and he's coming off the board 10 picks later in an average draft. There is little debate here; Carlos Santana is a superior option to Joe Mauer.
You could do a whole lot worse at catcher or with the 65th overall pick, which is Mauer's average draft position. He's a phenomenal hitter who should give his fantasy owners about 15 homers, 80 runs, 80 RBI a .300 batting average and .400 OBP. But, those floors are also essentially his ceilings, since Mauer is not going to hit for much power. Furthermore, given the dearth of talent around him in the Minnesota lineup, his run and RBI totals, numbers that are largely dependent on team context, could experience a sharp decline this year. Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier are slated to hit in front of Mauer this year. Hicks had a .259 OBP in 313 plate appearances last year. Dozier played a full major league season and put up a .312 OBP. If you think Mauer is going to come to the plate with runners on base with any degree of regularity, you are sorely mistaken. If and when those numbers come down, we're looking at a catcher with great batting average and OBP, and not a whole lot else. Those rates are, of course, a lot more valuable in rotisserie leagues, where they accumulate over the season to widen the gap over the rest of the league. In head-to-head leagues they aren't quite as valuable. Even Joe Mauer will go 6-for-30 in a week this season.
Santana, meanwhile, brings 20-25-homer power to the table. Rather than OBP black holes in front of him in the lineup, Santana will hit behind Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis, both of whom get on base at a .350-or-better clip for their careers. While Santana, too, sits in that 80-RBI, 80-run projection, he's in a much better environment in Cleveland than Mauer is in Minneapolis. Those feel like ceilings for Mauer. For Santana, they're floors.
In addition, Santana was seriously unlucky last year. He had a .301 BABIP, but a .326 xBABIP. He put up a career-high 21.8-percent line-drive rate while also swinging and missing a career-low 6.6 percent of the time. Remember, this is Mauer's age-31 season. He's a wholly known quantity. It's Santana's age-28 season. He's almost certainly just entering his prime, and we could still see some growth in both power and maturity.
Mauer is, at best, a three-category player. If things get really ugly around him in Minnesota, he could be a one-category player who just treads water in RBI and runs. Santana is going to be a positive in homers and OBP, and will likely at least match Mauer in RBI and runs, with an extreme likelihood in besting him in both categories. He also has far more upside thanks to his power, age and team context. Add to that the fact that you can get him a full round later in most drafts, and this becomes academic. Santana is the guy you want.
David Gonos makes the case for Joe Mauer:
Catchers are underappreciated -- both in real life and in fantasy baseball. So I love that this week's fantasy debate is about two stellar backstops that rank near the top of all draft lists.
Carlos Santana is a worthy pick for most teams, so don't take this as a slight at his fantasy potential. He led all fantasy catchers in points in head-to-head leagues last season, and much of that title was due to him leading the position with 541 at-bats. He spent a lot of time at designated hitter (29 games) and first base (47 games) last season, and he's now expected to see some at-bats as a third baseman, as well.
It's doubtful he's going to play much more than the 154 games he played in 2013. That's likely going to be his career high, considering any games behind the plate still dials back a player's health. His '13 numbers, coming off his age-27 season, are about the best we can expect in any year. Obviously, it was a stellar year, considering he led the position in points, at-bats and walks (93). He hit seven more home runs in '11 (27) than he did in '13 (20), but he improved his batting average from .239 (in '11) to .268 (in '13).
Improving his power, while keeping his average up, will be a tough task -- especially if he's working on adding another defensive position to his repertoire.
Joe Mauer, on the other hand, had about 100 fewer at-bats as Santana, and he finished 2013 as the sixth-highest scoring catcher in head-to-head play. He had just one fewer base hit than Santana, and seven fewer runs scored.
Now, consider that Mauer missed the final six weeks because of a concussion he suffered off of a foul tip while he was behind the plate. Those numbers look much better against Santana's now, don't they? Oh, and while he didn't flash much power (11 home runs), he did sport a position-leading batting average (.324) and OBP (.404). Heck, Mauer (.476) even outslugged Santana (.455).
Mauer played just 75 games behind the plate last season, with 29 games as the designated hitter. He'll probably see similar time at DH, but now manager Ron Gardenhire has moved Mauer to first base full time. The Minnesota native should reach or eclipse the 147 games he played in 2012 when he set a career high. That's also the year he outscored Santana by about 60 head-to-head points.
With a full season, not behind the plate, with most of his games being played at first base or DH, we'll have a chance to see a career-year from Mauer. It would not be outlandish to project his numbers to be close to this: 152 games, 585 at-bats, 185 hits, 13 home runs, 35 doubles, 82 RBI, 90 walks, 100 strikeouts, and let's toss in 10 stolen bases (Gardy already said he'll have a green light this season).
Depending on your scoring system, that could lead the catchers in your fantasy league.
SI.com Fantasy Baseball Debate Series:
I. Robinson Cano vs. Jason Kipnis
II. Shin-Soo Choo vs. Alex Rios
III. Adam Wainwright vs. Stephen Strasburg
IV. Prince Fielder vs. Joey Votto
V. Evan Longoria vs. David Wright
VI. Carlos Santana vs. Joe Mauer