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Pittsburgh columnist: "The Mauer contract is lunacy"

Mar 23, 2010, 9:59 AM EDT

In the past 24 hours I’ve seen a lot of people note the risk involved in signing a catcher to a big contract as he’s coming off what could very well be the best year he ever has, but I hadn’t seen anyone say that the contract was a bad idea. At least until I read Ron Cook’s column in today’s Post-Gazette today anyway:

Somebody asked me Monday if I could imagine the Pirates ever stepping
up and giving a star player a $23 million-a-year contract, as one of
the other so-called small-market teams — the Minnesota Twins — just
did with All-Star catcher Joe Mauer. My answer shocked me.

“I sure as heck hope not.”

That from a guy who has spent the past 20 years screaming at the
Pirates for not spending more on their product and getting exactly what
they deserve — the demise of a three-time division-winning club, then
17 consecutive seasons of losing with no end to that streak in sight. Sorry. The Mauer contract is lunacy.

Cook’s major complaint is that by signing Mauer to this deal the Twins will never be able to afford a decent supporting cast for him. He then compares the deal to the Pirates giving Jason Kendall $60 million back in 2000, citing that as the blow from which “the Pirates never recovered.”

Which is simply wrong. No, the Kendall deal wasn’t good for the Pirates, but to suggest that the team would have been fine but for that contract is simply ridiculous. There were many, many reasons the Pirates went down the toilet, not the least of which included (a) a decade’s worth of terrible drafts; (b) contracts that worked out worse than Kendall’s did (remember Derek Bell? Pat Mears? Raul Mondesi? Kevin Young?); and (c) trades that would get rejected in most fantasy leagues (Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill; Jason Schmidt for Armando Rios and change).

I think that taking a risk on Joe Mauer is much smarter than taking a risk on Jason Kendall in 2001, but even if they’re identically bad ideas, a team can of limited means can survive such a thing as long as they don’t do multiple other silly things like the 1993-present Pirates.  At the risk of criminal understatement, the Twins front office is savvier than the Pirates’ masters have been lo these many years.

No one will be thrilled if Joe Mauer turns into post-2001 Jason Kendall tomorrow, but the Twins will survive such a thing better than the Pirates have survived their serial missteps.

  1. JGS - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    The Twins also aren’t the Marlins in terms of market. Minneapolis is a four-sport city, they are opening a brand new stadium and this contract will push them over $100M next year. Plus they have a new owner–Carl Pohlad’s son might prove to be less stingy than his father was

  2. Anon - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    I don’t even understand the argument. What were the Twins supposed to do? Trade him? Anyone remember the Johan Santana trade? Those things usually don’t work out that well and are at least as risky, if not more so, than this contract. Let him walk? Are you kidding? Mauer for 2 draft picks? Not an option. So that leaves only one possibility – sign him to essentially what he wants. To say they shouldn’t have done this is to ignore, among many other things, the fact that they really had no choice.

  3. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    What were the Twins supposed to do?

    The twins were pretty much screwed from the get go. If they didn’t sign him before his contract was up, a possible bidding war between the Sox/Yanks/Mets/etc could have driven the Twins out of the market. If they did re-sign him, it’d be the most expensive deal they’ve ever offered.
    Jonah Keri actually brought up a good point (on Simmons podcast) that because the value of a dollar today is worth more than in the future, the $23M AAV in year 6/7/8 might not be that bad even if Mauer declines/moves off catcher. So if they overpay him a few million each year, who cares? It’s only if he falls off a cliff, like Kendall did, that could really hurt the Twins.

  4. TheRealDavidK - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    The sports opinionists at the PPG are rabble rousers at best and idiots at worst. I tuned them out long ago. The beat writers are top notch, however.

  5. Bill@TDS - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    It’s not an uncommon line of thinking, though this guy took it a lot further than most people do. It’s actually the argument I tackled in my post today, before I’d seen Cook’s article.
    Captcha: lines faintly (I like it when they kind of go together)

  6. Oggmonster - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    Joe Mauer is as popular in Minnesota as any athlete anywhere, and he’s not going to necessarily have to win batting titles and MVP awards every year to put a lot of asses in seats. The Twins couldn’t afford not to pay the hometown hero.

  7. YankeesfanLen - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    I can think of a team that has had the same pitcher for 14 years.
    Mauer can stay in the Twin Cities, we always can somehow get through him and Morneau.
    Why hasn’t The Rabbit won the lotto yet so we can go strighten the Pirates out?

  8. Trevor B - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    A Pittsburgh reporter calling the Mauer deal lunacy is like a Charles Manson supporter calling the release of an innocent man lunacy. Maybe if Pittsburgh would learn how to use their annual high end draft pick for something good and then actually have the ability to follow up on that player we wouldn’t have these guys as the NL whoopin’ boys.
    A lot of small market teams often “clean house” a little bit to acquire cheap, yet highly talented, prospect and rebuild to make a good run but the Pirates clean house just to make sure the house is empty year after year.

  9. neckrolls - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    What if the Pirates had retained Barry Bonds for the 1993 equivalent of $23M a year? Would that have put off their historic run of futility for a few years?

  10. Closter Knickerbockers - Mar 23, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    It should not be assumed that he will be a catcher for the duration of the contract.

  11. tjw - Mar 23, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Aside from the ridiculousness of comparing Joe Mauer and Jason Kendall, how was the Kendall contract that bad? According to fangraphs (which doesn’t have 2001 numbers), over the final five years of his contract Kendall was worth $52.5 million while he was paid $45.9 million. That doesn’t sound that bad. And if you exclude the two years he played for Oakland, Kendall put a value of $34.6 million while earning $23.8 million in salary. Sounds like the Pirates got a deal.

  12. YANKEES1996 - Mar 23, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    I agree with those that say the Twins made the right choice here. The Santana trade was a definite debacle and if they had not resigned Mauer on the eve of their new stadium opening the financial loss would have been staggering. Ron Gardenhire always has the Twins in the thick of things even when some writers have them taking on water faster than the Titanic, he always manages to keep them in contention and that is the type of team that fans will pay to see. The anger and disappontment in Minnesota if Mauer had not be resigned would have seriously damaged their first season in their new ballpark so I see his contract as a good decision.
    If a journalist in Pittsburgh wants to condemn the contract then so be it, but I would tell him that until his team has a winning season his opinion of the business decisions and player signings by a team like Minnesota is really something he probably should keep his mouth shut about.

  13. Evan - Mar 23, 2010 at 11:20 AM

    For the Twins, I don’t think it was a good deal; I think it was a GREAT deal.
    Mauer is the best player in baseball. I’ll say it again, Mauer is the best player in baseball. I’d trade Texiera and Arod straight up for him (not in Fantasy Baseball but definitely in “real” baseball).
    Albert Pujols? Garbage. First basemen are a dime a dozen, the best catcher ever comes once every half century.

  14. cowdisciple - Mar 23, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    All the other little things that influence how much a team should pay for a win — the Twins’ position on the cusp of a playoff spot and the added value from having all that (those?) WAR from a single roster slot — support paying more for Mauer, too.

  15. TryMathForAChange - Mar 23, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    The pirates being incompetent at fielding a competitive team does not change the math.
    In 2009, the twins had an opening day payroll of $65M (and they have been in the mid 60s to mid 70s for a couple of years now). They have a single player taking up about 1/3 of that. Long term that means the cast around him is going to decline because they will not be able to afford to resign other players (by year 3 of the deal or so the pain will start to kick in).
    The twins need to get more out of Mauer than signing 3 other players at close to $8M a year. Small market teams live and die by their 5-8 M/year guys.

  16. Charles Gates - Mar 23, 2010 at 11:55 AM


  17. tjw - Mar 23, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    But what you’re forgetting is that the Twins have a $100m+ payroll for 2010 (of which Mauer is getting $12.5m) so we’re not talking about a player making $23m on a $65m team, we’re talking about adding 10 percent to the payroll in order to keep the second best hitter in baseball. The math works when you’re not using intentionally misleading numbers. And as far as your “$5-8m guys” are concerned, the Twins had exactly one such player last year and won the AL Central. Seems to me like they’re living just fine without them at all.

  18. ThatGuy - Mar 23, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    TryMathForAChange- How about you try some math for a change. Even before the extension the Twins raised their payroll to the 100 million range on accorinding to the Pohlads a conservative estimate on their new revenue with the new stadium. The twins have always based payroll on revenue. The twins were succesful building a team with 70 million(12 Million of that being Mauer, so really 60 million on the rest of the team). So next year they pay mauer his 23, assuming they have a 100 million again(thats assuming, Pohlad himself said last night payroll will continue to increase) They will still have 72 million to field the rest of the team. Not to mention they already have Morneau, Kubel and Span locked up for the next 4 years or so who is the core of their team. It may be 25% of their payroll, but twith the increased revenue they still have more than they ever spent to spend on the rest of their roster.

  19. Nasty Boy - Mar 23, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    A point I made when the Damon fiasco was on going. The world was blaming Scott Boras for the Damon situation, but in the end , as is the case now ,its the owners who create their own monster. I’m not saying they should or shouldn’t of signed him , that’s their business, but if they don’t offer that money , the player can’t get it. It boils down to trying to keep your prized player away from the other team. If the Twins don’t sign him , someone else will. Its called competition , or if you will, greed.

  20. Joey B - Mar 23, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    For next season, the paper reports the club already has $70.5 million committed to just eight players. Good luck to ’em trying to fill out the rest of the roster while keeping the payroll from soaring to dangerous numbers.
    That’s not that unusual. The LAA have $74M committed to their top 8, StL $60M to 4 players, SF $50M to 4, the NYY ~ $180M to 8-9. If you’re locking in elite players, a lot of others can be fill-ins.
    “I watched it happen when the Pirates way overpaid to re-sign catcher Jason Kendall.”
    So on a sample size of 1, it becomes a bad idea? Would locking in Bonds hav been a bad idea?
    “But we shouldn’t expect Nutting to ever give an Andrew McCutchen or a Pedro Alvarez 25 percent of the team’s payroll.”
    Is he really comparing two players with almost no experince with a guy on the path to 1st ballot HOF status?

  21. John F - Mar 23, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    Does this compare at all to The Derek Jeter deal at all? Ten years ago that seemed kind of ludicrous and lord knows Jeter takes a constant pounding from haters and lovers alike regarding his range…at the end of the day though, the Yankees are still winning and Jeter is still playing SS. It can’t go on forever of course, but regarding Mauer I can’t really see the downside signing all around. The Twins are now a mid to upper mid market team with a loyal fan base, a great franchise, a new TV deal, a new stadium with new revenues on the way. If Mauer needs to DH in five or six years or play 1B if they lose Mourneau so be it. He’s worth that much in terms of being home grown and a fantastic hitter and person. I realize it’s the old story; one contract could be the albatross, but frankly the old way of dealing the player prior to the commitment isn’t really consistently the answer either. Montreal is out of business and teams like Pittsburgh, KC, Oakland, Cleveland and San Diego seem to be perpetually in a state of having to deal their stars while alienating their fan base. Only Florida seems to have gotten the hang of this although Oakland does a pretty fair job with their resources. I don’t know…what’s the alternative? He signs with Boston or New York for millions more? How is that good for the game? Risky? Maybe. Lunacy? No, but it’s not my money…

  22. asdf - Mar 23, 2010 at 2:32 PM

    Try some research for a change.

  23. The Rabbit - Mar 23, 2010 at 6:08 PM

    I keep buying tickets…to no avail. Sigh!
    But I promise you a VP position in the organization if I ever win.

  24. D-Luxxx - Mar 23, 2010 at 11:29 PM

    When oh wen will people stop calling the Twins a “small market” team? Seriously? They were 14 this year in attendance over teams like Atlanta, the White Sox, Texas and Seattle. It’s the best attendance they’ve had since 92, third overall… and that’s without the new stadium factoring in.
    And really, that’s only attendance.
    Now granted, Minnesota may not have that many viewers in the Twin Cities area, you have to figure we’re the only team in the state, and most of those in the eastern parts of ND & SD, and northern IA as well. Hell, most Brewer fans are really Twin fans at heart. They love us when we visit. The Twins are not small market. They aren’t so please, pretty please, stop with the small market crap.
    They’re Mid.

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