Back in August, before Joe Mauer's season came to a premature end because of a concussion, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he would talk with his superstar catcher about possibly becoming a first baseman.
The toll that catching was taking on Mauer, who turned 30 in April, was making it tougher and tougher for him to get on the field. It was the second time in three years he ended a season injured.
Apparently, he and Gardenhire agreed, because the Twins announced Monday that Mauer was giving up the chest protector, mask and mitt for ... a slightly different mitt. Mauer is the Twins new first baseman.
"Joe decided that he'd like to make this move, and we're happy with that," Gardenhire told Sirius/XM Radio.
The team broke the news on Twitter:
BREAKING: Joe Mauer to transition to first base in 2014. pic.twitter.com/oxasig95K4
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) November 11, 2013
Mauer has five years to go on a contract that pays him $23 million annually. Mauer has been the most valuable catcher in Major League Baseball since becoming a starting player in 2005. But where does he fit in among first basemen? Pretty well.
Mauer batted .324/.404/.476 with 11 homers and 35 doubles in 508 plate appearances for an OPS of .880, in line with his career mark of .873. How many starting first basemen OPS'd better than .880 in 2013? Here's the list:
• Chris Davis
• Paul Goldschmidt
• Joey Votto
• Edwin Encarnacion
• Freddie Freeman
Mauer becomes less valuable as a first baseman, but not by enough that it makes his contract unacceptable. And his chances of playing 150 or more games a season — something that never happened when he was a catcher — increase. Less chance of concussions. Less chance of getting dinged all over his body. Less chance of being run over by a guy trying to score. He's played a total of 56 games at first the past three seasons, too, so he's experienced there. He might be very effective there every day.
Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com breaks down what Mauer moving means to Minnesota's roster construction:
The move also will fill a big hole for the Twins after they traded first baseman Justin Morneau to the Pirates at the end of August. Morneau is a free agent but is unlikely to sign with the Twins now that Mauer will be playing first.
The Twins have depth at catcher with 24-year-old Josmil Pinto emerging as an offensive force during his short time with the team as a September callup. After hitting .309/.499/.482 with 15 homers and 74 RBIs in 126 games between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester, Pinto batted .342/.398/.566 with four homers, five doubles and 12 RBIs in 21 games with Minnesota.
Veteran backstop Ryan Doumit also is on the roster while 25-year-old Chris Herrmann saw time at catcher and in the outfield this year.
The biggest downside to this is Mauer possibly losing some of his joy for the game. He loves being a catcher. You'd almost have to, in order to put up with the physical grief.
It's going to be a bittersweet transition for him. But Twins fans are going to like it.
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- Sports & Recreation
- Joe Mauer
- Minnesota Twins