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Yes, Joe Mauer is worth the long-term risk

Feb 16, 2010, 8:57 AM EDT

Headline in today’s Star Tribune: “Is Mauer worth the long-term risk.”

I play around with headlines sometimes too, but in this case I’m not
sure what the answer could be besides yes.  And Joe Christensen agrees
in the body of the article:

My view is simple: Get it done. Give him a blank check. If he wants eight to 10 years guaranteed? Fine, whatever it takes.

Well, maybe not ten, but if there’s any player you have to give the big, long-term deal to, it’s Joe Mauer. Still, Christensen runs down the risks involved with Mauer and points to guys like Brian McCann, Jason Kendall and Jorge Posada as players with which to compare Mauer.  Which doesn’t make a lot of sense given that McCann was way younger when the Braves gave him his much cheaper deal, Posada way older and Kendall not worthy of holding Mauer’s jockstrap-holder’s jockstrap.

The comparison that appears nowhere in the article but, in my mind at least, seems most apt: Mike Piazza. While he was a much better hitter than Mauer, he wasn’t nearly the defensive catcher either. Maybe that washes out and maybe it doesn’t, but that’s not the point. The point is that he, like Mauer, was a franchise catcher, the sort of which with whom, if he was your best hitter, you could win a championship.  If the Dodgers had signed Piazza to an eight-year deal after his age-26 season they would have been pretty darn pleased with the results, as Piazza proved highly productive and durable, at least until the eighth year. And he also remained behind the plate that entire time.

I’m not saying you make your decisions based on what the second or third best catcher of all time did, but it’s not like the kind of production the Twins would need from Mauer to make an eight-year deal worthwhile has never happened before.  And given that not signing Mauer is guaranteed to alienate your entire fan base, yeah, you take the risk.

  1. thatguy - Feb 16, 2010 at 9:12 AM

    Pay the man…

  2. Wooden U. Lykteneau - Feb 16, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    While he was a much better hitter than Mauer

    Piazza, age 24 = 152 OPS+ (Mauer, 118)
    Piazza, age 25 = 144 OPS+ (Mauer, 134)
    Piazza, age 26 = 172 OPS+ (Mauer, 170)
    Better, yes, Much better, not so much. Certainly not enough to account for the chasm in defensive ability and pitch-calling.

  3. Jonny5 - Feb 16, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    Hmmm? 8-10 years for a guy who will squat behind home plate??? I wouldn’t do it. It’s very tough on the knees……. Catchers are valuable, ones that can hit? They’re gold. But that’s right behind pitching for wear and tear.. I dunno….. But hey,I’m a penny pincher so maybe I’d be more of a Pirates type of owner??? LOL!

  4. Rays fan - Feb 16, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    Piazza = “second or third best catcher of all time?” Please! He was an excellent hitter but not a great defensive player, especially later in his career, and not a great handler of pitchers either.
    (Partial) list of catchers I’d rather have on my roster: Mauer, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Al Lopez, Bill Dickey, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, Joe Torre.

  5. BC - Feb 16, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    Throw Pudge Rodriguez in there as well. Best defensive catcher of his generation and a very good hitter. In their primes, I’d rather have had Pudge than Piazza.

  6. BC - Feb 16, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    I think the bidding starts at 7 years, $140 mil. If he gets to 31-32 years old and isn’t breaking down, you can tack another 2 or 3 years on like the Yanks did with Posada.

  7. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Feb 16, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    (Partial) list of catchers I’d rather have on my roster: Mauer, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Al Lopez, Bill Dickey, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, Joe Torre.

    One of these names is not like the others. Varitek had three good years (120 OPS+) but before and after that he’s been league average or worse.

  8. Craig Calcaterra - Feb 16, 2010 at 9:44 AM

    I’ll grant that “second or third” may be a tad high, but Joe Torre? Elston Howard? Varitek? Really? What possible basis would you have for those guys over Piazza? Sure, Piazza’s arm sucked, but he wasn’t a total liability back there, and unlike Howard and Torre he was never moved off catcher.
    Do you guys have any appreciate for how rare Piazza’s offensive production is from the catcher position? Man, I never even liked the guy that much, but this kind of sleeping on Piazza’s credentials is rather shocking to me.

  9. Teddy Ballgame - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    Mauer will probably not have the benefit of PEDs that Pudge and Piazza most assuredly had.

  10. BC - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    Of the guys “Rays Fan” listed… I’d put Bench, Dickey, Carter and Fisk ahead of Piazza (along with Pudge Rodriguez). Give Mauer another 5 or so years and I’d probably put him ahead of Piazza. Posada is a tough one given all the rings – Piazza was a way better hitter, but Posada is a better defender and calls a better game (unless you’re AJ Burnett apparantly).
    Interestingly, AJ Burnett was traded for Piazza in 1998….

  11. The Common Man - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    Fine, you take one of your guys not named Johnny Bench or (maybe) Yogi Berra. I’ll take the wins. Shutting down the running game contributes relatively little value compared to the offense generated, and if you figure out a way to determine how much effect “handling a pitching staff” has, let us know.
    By the way, how do you put together a list of catchers with Elston Howard, Al Lopez, Bill Dickey, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, Joe Torre and not include Roy Campanella (who may just push Piazza out of the top 3)?

  12. Rays fan - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:16 AM

    Figured some wouldn’t like my view.
    1) Sorry, I left Pudge Rodriguez out–I did say my list was partial.
    2) Varitek–granted,but have always thought he was excellent in handling a pitching staff. I admit something of a pro-Varitek bias.
    3) I am well aware of how good with a bat Piazza was. However, (my opinion) the defensive aspects of being a catcher are more important. Catcher and shortstop are two positions where I’d sacrifice some offense to get the best gloves possible. Piazza’s a deserving Hall of Famer, & my main beef was with trying to place him in the top 2 or 3 catchers ever. He’s not. As for my list–those are indded my preferences, and one of the great things about baseball is the ability to endlessly debate opinions across eras.

  13. Rays fan - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    I did say it was a partial list–but I’ll agree that Campanella was outstanding & meant no slight to him.

  14. The Common Man - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    Fair enough. Again though, no Roy Campanella?

  15. BC - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    I left Berra off my list. I think he only played the last 1 or 2 years of his career in Left Field.

  16. BC - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    Campanella didn’t play long enough for me to judge…. Kind of the same unfortuate case of Thurman Munson.

  17. BC - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    Campanella played 9 years, I thought he only played 5 or 6. And three HUGE years. I never saw him play and don’t know what type of defender or leader he was. That’s a tough one.
    Thurman Munson played 10 years, looks like 9 as a starter. Didn’t hit as many HR’s as I thought, but in the 70’s you had 32 HR’s lead the league a couple times. He was a good defender, bigtime leader, 6 or 7 all star games. They’re tougher to judge than I thought.
    Piazza had 9 HUGE years. He wasn’t a clubhouse problem, but he wasn’t much of a leader. His pitching staffs usually performed well, so I’d gather his game-calling was good. But he couldn’t throw ME out trying to steal.
    Guess it depends on what you value.

  18. Scott - Feb 16, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    Piazza is NOT a “much better hitter”
    Mauer’s career OBP is .408 (which he has exceeded 3 times in 4 full seasons)
    Piazza exceeded .408 OBP in 2 out of 16 (career .377). He hit the ball farther when he did get a hold of it, but he made more outs in the process.

  19. ecp - Feb 16, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    While I would certainly agree about Kendall, check out his numbers through age 25 compared to Mauer’s and you’ll see why he is listed as a comparable:
    Kendall .312/.399/.451 120 OPS+
    Mauer .317/.399/.457 127 OPS+
    Kendall’s age 26 season was not as good as Mauer’s, of course, but it still wasn’t bad: .320/.412/.470 124 OPS+. Kendall is a pretty scary cautionary tale about catchers, actually.

  20. Coby - Feb 16, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    If your putting defense in there would you really want Jorge Posada?? I think I’ll take Piazza, they both suck when it comes defense and Piazza stayed heather and hit a lot better. I think people forget how good Piazza really was: Career .922 OPS averaged almost 27 home runs a game through out his career. To put that in prospective only 8 catchers (not named Piazza) in the last 10 years have put up 27 home runs or more. Mauer 2009, Lopez 2003, Posada 2003, 2000, Charles Johnson 2000, Pudge 2000, 1999, Lieberthal 1999
    And Piazza averaged that over a 16 year career. There is no way putting defense in the mix that he is not a top 5 catcher. I would go Bench, Fisk, Piazza, Yogi Berra, Pudge

  21. BC - Feb 16, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    Piazza never had anyone like Justin Morneau hitting behind him either. His job was not to get on base, it was to mash.

  22. BC - Feb 16, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    Actually, if you want to go really old-school, how about Ernie Lombardi? Not a huge HR hitter, but a .306 career average with .818 OPS. 16 years (looks like 14 as a starter), won a couple batting titles, 8 time all star. Apparently very good defensively. He also hit .306 for his career despite being slower than molasses. Also was impossible to strike out.

  23. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Feb 16, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    Why did you direct that comment at me? I made no mention of Posada and was talking specifically about Varitek being included in that list of all time greats.
    However, with no good measure on how to evaluate catchers defensively, I can say that if Posada were to not throw out a single basestealer in his next 500 attempts, he’d still have a better CS % than Piazza.

  24. Rays fan - Feb 16, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    Absolutely include Roy Campanella.

  25. Wet Socks - Feb 16, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    I agree, the numbers certainly support Mauer being comparable offensively. Besides, it’s not even fair to say what type of hitter Mauer ‘was’ throughout his career when he is currently in the midst (or still approaching) his prime. There is too much left to be decided to make snap judgments about who was a better hitter.
    Gonna pay him by Saturday Billy/Mr. Antony?

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