COMMENTARY | The Minnesota Twins' worst fears were realized Tuesday, Aug. 20, when Joe Mauer was diagnosed with a concussion. It's time to start considering a position switch for Mauer to prevent more occurrences.
The Twins have had more than their fair share of players missing time due to concussions. This season alone, the Twins have had four players placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list.
Both Mauer and Ryan Doumit have had concussions due to foul balls hitting off their helmets while catching. Both players had the proper equipment on properly, and it still didn't protect them.
This is not something unique to the Twins, either. When Mauer went on the DL, he became the fifth catcher on the DL at that moment. He was the eighth catcher on the concussion DL in August alone.
It's hard to imagine this is just a freak of small sample size. If anything, teams are much more aware of concussions and know how and when to test for them. It's scary to think how many catchers over the decades of baseball have done what Doumit tried to do by playing with a concussion.
What's also scary is the inconsistent nature of concussions. There simply is no way to know how long it will take for a player to get better until he stops showing symptoms. If the symptoms are mild, it usually means the player will be back rather quickly -- but that's not always the case.
Doumit was back after eight days and has had no problems. The Twins' Wilkin Ramirez collided with teammate Josh Willingham on May 25, which gave Ramirez a concussion. He originally disagreed with the doctor that he had a concussion until he got sick on an airplane flight. He did not return to the major leagues until Aug. 14.
Another problem is that having a concussion makes the person more susceptible to having another one, which is more likely to have even worse symptoms. The Twins have seen this firsthand with Justin Morneau. He got a concussion in 2005 from a pitch hitting him in the batting helmet. Then, in July 2010, he got another concussion when an infielder's knee hit him in the head when he was trying to break up a double play. He was out for the rest of that season and really hasn't been the same since.
The problem is that most of concussions suffered by catchers, including the concussions of Mauer, Doumit and the Detroit Tigers' Alex Avila, are caused simply by foul tips to the helmet. There really is no way to take precaution against this until catchers' helmets are improved.
All teams take on the risk of a catcher getting hurt. But only the Twins have more than $115 million invested in their catcher through the 2018 season. The Twins have so much invested in Mauer that they need to consider putting him in a position with less risk.
The problem is that the Twins lose the advantage of having Mauer's production from the catcher's spot in the lineup. That is why the Twins considered him valuable enough to pay him $23 million per season.
However, the advantage would be that Mauer would be able to be in the lineup every day, especially if he played first base, which is the only other position he's played in the major leagues other than designated hitter. Mauer might even see a boost in production since he wouldn't be dealing with the wear and tear that catching places on a player's body.
The other issue would be finding a primary catcher to replace Mauer, since it seems pretty clear that Doumit and Chris Herrmann are not suited to be anything more than backup catchers. Doumit is not only not great defensively, but he also had a very hard time staying healthy when he was the primary catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Unfortunately, the Twins don't have any real catching prospects that are close to being ready. Josmil Pinto did just get promoted to Class AAA Rochester and is hitting well, but he's been the DH almost as much as he's been the catcher, which doesn't say much for his catching skills.
He does bat right-handed so might do well as a platoon partner with Herrmann, although Herrmann has really never been considered much of a prospect either.
The Twins could always look to trade a mediocre relief pitcher for a catcher. I hear that that's the going rate these days for a major-league ready catching prospect.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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