Wednesday

6-10-09: How Much Is He Worth?

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to Wednesday. You'd think after all this time, I'd run out of ways to complain about how much week there is left, and how I can't wait for the weekend. And perhaps the fact that I'm discussing the nature of my kvetching instead of actually whining about it means I have.

I doubt seriously that's the case, but for now, I'll just say: come on Saturday! Dan needs to relax!

Moving on...

Today's column is one that I've been pondering for a while. Twins fans know that Joe Mauer's contract is up at the end of 2010. Baseball fans know you don't want to let a star player enter the final season of his contract without some form of extension. So presuming the Twins are going to make a major push to get Mauer extended sometime between now and next year's Spring Training, what exactly is he worth? Obviously I can only surmise and speculate, but that's what you come here to read, right!?

Right?!

I thought so...

"I am free of all prejudice. I hate everyone equally."
- W. C. Fields (1880 - 1946), American comedian, actor and juggler.


"Juggler"? Really? I had no idea. But I agree that it does make it a lot easier to treat everyone equally when you're down on humanity as a whole!

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Someone I'm not down on is Joe Mauer.

Going into last night's game against the A's, Joe was hitting .413 with 12 home runs and 35 RBI. His On-Base Percentage was .497. He's Slugging .786, which gives him an OPS of 1.282. And considering the ass-whipping the Twins laid on the A's, I'm guessing those numbers haven't gone down. I've gushed plenty in the past about how incredible those numbers are, especially given the fact that he missed the entire first month of the season with back trouble.

But today I want to gaze into the future a bit.

Here's what I know. One, Joe's contract is up after 2010. Two, the Twins want to sign him to an extension that ensures he plays the bulk of his prime in Minnesota. And three, to accomplish that they're going to have to pay him a ridiculous amount of money.

That hasn't always been the pattern with the Twins. Even back in the World Championships days, players took hefty "home town discounts" to stay in Minnesota. Kirby Puckett turned down a big offer from Boston, and spurned the White Sox advances to take less money and remain a Twin. Kent Hrbek also could've made more money elsewhere, but stayed in Minnesota.

Then you look at recent Twins free agents. Torii Hunter was allowed to leave after the Twins made a token offer that was blown out of the water by the Angels (and that's putting it mildly). And after Torii was allowed to walk, Johan Santana made it clear he had no desire to remain in Minnesota beyond his contract, which forced the Twins to make a trade which likely won't go down in the annals of legendary Twins successes.

So for the Twins to step up and lock Mauer into a deal which will keep him a Twin for the foreseeable future is somewhat out of character.

That being said, I don't doubt they'll do everything in their power to make it happen. So in essence it becomes a question of numbers. How long of a contract do they need to offer to entice Mauer to not test the free agent market, and at what price?

It's not as simple as it might sound. On the one hand, the Twins want to offer Mauer a deal that is satisfying enough to keep him from taking calls from New York or Boston (whom I hate). On the other hand, they don't want to lock themselves into an oppressive contract which could suck up an overly-large portion of their payroll with a guy who's had injury troubles in the past.

Like most things in life, it's a matter of finding the right balance. And that's what I'm attempting to do today.

To accomplish this, I decided first to look at the salaries of some catchers around the league.

The highest paid catcher in baseball is currently Jorge Posada for the Yankees at $13.1 million. Posada's a career .277 hitter with an average slugging percentage of .479. Numbers that Mauer crushes.

Ivan Rodriguez made $12.4 million from the Tigers last year, and averages .301 and .475. Jason Varitek made $10.4 million from the Red Sox (whom I hate) in 2008. He averages .262 and .441.

If we look to recent history for highly paid catchers, Mike Piazza's name comes to mind. He made $16 million in 2004-2005, when he averaged .260 and .450. That money was more about what he'd done previously, than what he did in those years obviously.

So given those numbers, and how they relate to what Mauer's projected to do, it's probably safe to set $15 million as an absolute minimum for what Mauer's contract would have to average.

But what about the maximum? A-Roid is the highest paid player in baseball, earning $33 million from the Yankees this year. That's absurd and obviously way out of the Twins' range. After Alex, it goes Manny ($23.9 million)*, Jeter ($21.6 million), Teixeira ($20.6 million), and Beltran ($19.2 million) to round out the top 5.

(*- Aside: So the top two earners in MLB have both been shrouded by steroid scandals in the last 5 months. Sometimes baseball is difficult to defend.)

Mark Teixera's deal set the market last year when he signed for 8 years and $180 million. And I think the $22.5 million that deal will average is probably a fair ceiling for Mauer.

So at minimum the deal should average $15 million and at maximum we'll say $23 million.

The next question is length. And this is where it gets really tricky.

Though no one who watched Mauer play three sports at Cretin-Derham Hall high school will question his fabulous athletic ability, they also have to admit that he's had some injury troubles since coming to the big leagues. And when you add in the fact that he's a catcher - the most physically taxing position on the field - you can understand why the Twins would be nervous to commit to a extra-long-term contract with him.

But clearly they'll have to overcome some of that hesitation, because the teams that would be after Mauer should he become a free agent will easily be offering 5, 6 and 7-year deals.

Going back to the Teixeira deal, Mark was 28 when he signed that 8-year deal. Mauer will be 27 in 2010 when his contract expires. Looking through the numbers of some of the great catchers in baseball, it looks like they peak in their late 20's to early 30's. So if a 5-year deal gets Mauer to 32, that's an easy minimum length to set.

When A-Roid signed that ridiculous contract with the Rangers, it was for 10 years. A 10-year deal for Mauer puts him at 37. That's probably too long to consider, but let's set it as the maximum anyway.

So the Twins have to be looking at offering a deal between 5-10 years for an average yearly salary of between $15 to $23 million per year.

Now that we've got those ranges, it's opinion time!

Were I Twins management, here's what I do. I dial up Joe's agent Ron Shapiro and say, "what's it going to take to get Joe locked in?"

Ron's not going to directly answer that question because he doesn't want to limit the possibilities, but at least it starts a dialogue.

Ultimately, I tell Ron, look, we can't spend what the Yankees and Red Sox (whom I hate) can, but here's what we're going to do.

We'll give Joe a couple of options. Here's a contract for 6 years and $120 million ($20 million per year). And here's a contract for 8 years and $144 million ($18 million per year). Does he want the higher average? Or the longer-term?

And then we see if Joe wants to be a career Twin or not.

Those numbers are astonishing I know. And the other consideration the Twins have to make is that whatever they sign Mauer for, they're going to have to pony up something similar for Justin Morneau when his deal expires in 2014.

But I still think they have to do it. Mauer is the face of the franchise. And deservedly so after he's seemingly made the leap from a high-average hitter with minimal power, to an all-around top-5 hitter. All the while being one of the top-3 defensive catchers in the league.

So what do you think Twins fans? Is that too much? Not enough? Feel free to add your thoughts below.

In the mean-time, keep watching the Baby Jesus. He's something special. Hopefully the Twins will keep him and pay him to stay that way!

That's all for today. I'm back on Friday with all the DFTU you can handle. The Twins are on the road, and the D'backs are struggling regardless of where they play. How much room is there on that ledge again? Find out Friday!

Until then, thanks for reading!

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