Life can’t get too much better for hometown hero Joe Mauer, who just signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Minnesota Twins.
It’s not that the Twins are rewarding Mauer, the first overall selection in the 2001 draft, for a season that saw him win the American League Most Valuable Player trophy.
It has more to do with what he means to a proud franchise that’s claimed two World Series banners in three appearances, and is the best-hitting catcher in baseball, having garnered his third AL batting title.
Mauer is a .327 lifetime batter, will turn 27 years old in April, had a season for the record books in 2009, and is the driving force in the Twins’ ascendancy.
Like clockwork, Mauer batted .365, which was the fourth time in his six-year career that he’s topped .300.
Beside being a contact hitter, Mauer finally blossomed real power, striking 28 home runs after smashing 16 the previous two years, and 15 in his first two seasons.
A run-producer, Mauer drove in 96 runs and scored 94 times, while closing with a .587 slugging percentage, an incredible .444 on-base percentage, and 307 total bases.
These numbers are due to maturity, and knowing that free agency was on the horizon. But his signature year and monster signing couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, as the Twins will be moving into their brand new stadium, and are coming off a season in which they made the playoffs.
That Minnesota dropped a three-game set to the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees in the AL Divisional Series, is still a step in the right direction, and put Mauer on the grand stage, where he batted .417 (five hits in 12 at-bats) along with two walks.
Mauer’s value can’t be put into dollars. As a catcher, he’s the lifeblood of the team, playing the most demanding position on the field.
Try squatting for nine innings, being ready to block balls in the dirt, and making sure base runners don’t steal. It’s far tougher physically than being a starting pitcher, who work only once in five games.
So far, Mauer has caught 586 games, and has committed only 18 errors, for a .996 fielding percentage.
After starring at Cretin-Derham Hall High in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mauer made it to the majors in 2004. In 35 games, he showed real promise, batting .308, with 15 of his 33 hits going for extra-bases.
The next season, Mauer, a line-drive hitter, became the full-time catcher, and responded with a .294 batting average, and 55 runs batted in.
In 2006, Mauer and the Twins came of age, as the 6-foot-5, 215-pound receiver made the first of three All-Star squads, and his club qualified for the playoffs, though getting swept by the Oakland Athletics in the opening round. That season, Mauer batted an AL-leading .347, while slapping 13 homers and driving in 84.
The toll of catching caught up with Mauer, who played in only 109 games in 2007, and his batting average slipped to .293, which is solid, but the expectations being so high, it seemed low when compared to his lifetime average.
No one can predict the future, but right now Mauer and the Twins are poised to be contenders in the AL Central for a long time.
Rick Assad has been a sports-writer for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.