Just how valuable Mauer is has yet to be adequately quantified, and it won't be until his next contract is signed, which figures to be the central theme surrounding his 2010 season as he defends his AL MVP award and the Twins defend the AL Central title they won due mostly to Mauer's brilliance. But there is no question that no player, not even St. Louis'
The Twins have neither the wealth, nor the wealth of talent, that those clubs do, which makes Mauer all the more vital to them. It isn't hard to imagine Minnesota sinking back into the depths of its division without Mauer, but it would be hard to imagine Mauer agreeing to a new contract anytime soon, which means that for the next 12 months -- or until he re-ups with the Twins, whichever comes first -- baseball will have its version of
While Cavaliers fans agonize over the latest LeBron rumors, Twins fans can take solace in the knowledge that not only do they get to watch Mauer for another season, but that to date, there has been little or no posturing about a new contract or public speculation about free agency on Mauer's part as there has been on James'. Part of that is because James can't help but be inundated with queries about where he'll land after the 2010 season because he's in the midst of the final year of his current deal, while Mauer still has a year to go; part of it is because Mauer is not the global icon that James is; and part of it is because Mauer has proven remarkably adept at deflecting such talk.
It certainly didn't impact him on the field, where he won a Gold Glove while leading the league in batting average (.363, the highest ever for a catcher), on-base percentage (.444) and slugging percentage (.587) and virtually carried the Twins down the stretch. After losing at home to the A's on Sept. 12, the Twins were 70-72 and in third place in the AL Central. That was also the last game of the season for 2006 AL MVP
Not that the Yankees or anyone else needed him to, but if it was an audition of sorts, Mauer certainly passed it. He is currently the second-highest paid catcher in the game, behind only the Yankees'
It also means that Mauer is in for a sizable raise over the $12.5 million that he'll make next season. The Twins will need to balance their desire to keep Mauer with their desire to field a competitive team, which is far easier said than done. They can't tie up too substantial a portion of their payroll in one player without limiting their flexibility to make other moves, and yet they can't simply let Mauer go without putting up a fight. Part of it may depend on just how much of a financial boost they receive from playing in brand-new Target Field, which opens next April. But even with a few extra dollars from luxury suites and concessions, the Twins will never be able to bridge the cavernous gap between themselves and the Yankees (or, for that matter, the Red Sox, who will also be looking for a catcher next winter, when
It's hard to find a comparable situation to Mauer's in recent history. The last catcher to be the best player available on the open market was probably
What the Twins might lack in dollars, they can attempt to make up for by playing to Mauer's humility and stature as a living legend in his home state. This, after all, is a guy who grew up rooting for the Twins, who had to borrow his mom's car to drive to the Metrodome in 2004, the day he made his big league debut, and who looks forward to nothing as much as spending time at his cabin in the northern Minnesota woods.
Mauer has become as much a part of Minnesota as snowstorms, which is why on Monday afternoon, two of the first three comments posted on the Web site of the
If that reaction is any indication, it's clear that the only thing more important to his fellow Minnesotans than having Mauer in Minnesota right now would be having him around for a very long time.