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It's Our Turn: Appreciate Mauer for what he is

Those who follow the Minnesota sports scene on Twitter know there is a popular debate amongst Twins fans surrounding Joe Mauer.

There is a vocal segment of the fan base that places much of the blame on him for three straight 96-plus loss seasons. He doesn’t hit enough home runs or play through injuries. He doesn’t drive in enough runs, and he eats up too much of the payroll with his $23 million a year salary.

Imagine the outcry from those same people if the Twins would have let Mauer leave as a free agent after the 2010 season. The Pohlads are constantly berated as being too cheap and unwilling to spend the money to field a competitive team year in and year out.

So here the Twins were, fresh off an American League Central title in 2009 and an MVP season from their homegrown catcher. The numbers Mauer put up that season were incredible – a .365 batting average, 28 home runs, 96 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .444 and a slugging percentage of .587.

That is a career year by almost any player’s standards, let alone at the catcher position. So the Twins did what they had to do that offseason with free agency looming after 2010 by signing Mauer to the richest contract in the team’s history.

At the time, it was a move widely lauded by the fan base. How could the Twins let a 26-year-old catcher, who grew up in Minnesota to become an MVP with his home team, walk as a free agent?

If Minnesota wasn’t willing to pay market value for him, the Red Sox or the Yankees would have gladly forked over the $184 million over eight years. They would also still be thrilled with a lifetime .323 hitter and a career .405 on-base percentage hitting second or third in their lineup.

Mauer never was and isn’t going to be a guy who perennially drives in 100 runs and hits 25 home runs. The Twins had to know that when they signed him to this contract. Many of the 28 home runs he hit in 2009 landed in the first two rows of seats beyond the left field wall in the Metrodome. A lot of those same opposite-field shots have died at the warning track in Target Field.

That doesn’t mean he is the reason for this team’s futility, and his salary certainly isn’t crippling the franchise. With a payroll that can reach more than $100 million, the Twins have plenty of financial flexibility, but they have to build their roster with players from their farm system.

Target Field wasn’t some magic bullet that would all of a sudden lead to the Twins signing top-line free agents every year. Payroll is driven largely by lucrative television deals like the Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network. New York, Boston and Los Angeles have them. The Twins don’t.

But that’s not why this team has lost 291 games the last three years. Bad trades and poor drafting has led to Minnesota’s demise. The Twins are in the process of turning that around with a farm system that was recently ranked number one in all of baseball by Baseball Prospectus in 2014.

Help isn’t far away. Mauer can do himself a favor with the fans this year by hitting .320 and playing 160 games at first base. In the near future, a potential order with Byron Buxton, Mauer and Miguel Sano filling three of the top four spots in the lineup would be a thing of beauty.

Maybe with some more talent around him, we could appreciate Mauer for what he is – a potential Hall of Famer and a great representative for this franchise – instead of focusing so much on what he’s not.

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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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