Mauer sets a deadline for extension talks

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If the Minnesota Twins want to lock up Joe Mauer(notes) to a contract extension, they're going to have to do it before the 2010 season begins.

AL MVP Joe Mauer could command a contract in the neighborhood of
$180 million.
(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Mauer plans on ending contract negotiations if a deal isn't struck by the end of spring training, a source close to the American League Most Valuable Player told Yahoo! Sports on Monday. Mauer would play out the season, then enter free agency primed to land perhaps the second-biggest bonanza in baseball history.

While the Twins hope to reach a deal before that happens – the Star Tribune reported they'd like to have one done by Christmas – formal negotiations between the sides have yet to begin, according to the source.

Twins general manager Bill Smith and Mauer's agent, Ron Shapiro, declined to comment.

The 26-year-old Mauer became the first AL catcher to win a batting title in 2006 – and has won two more since, including this year, when he hit .365 and led the league in on-base and slugging percentage. He has won Gold Gloves in consecutive seasons, maintained a pristine image and grew up in St. Paul, Minn., which makes the pressure on the Twins even more intense to re-sign him.

How much Mauer values staying with his hometown team will be tested by the lure of the enormous wealth and marketing opportunities that teams in New York, Boston and Los Angeles can offer. Mauer's connection with Minnesota runs deep, the source said, but he wants to compete for a championship, an opportunity afforded more easily by deep-pocketed franchises than even the best low-revenue franchise in baseball, Minnesota.

The Twins move into their new $500 million-plus stadium, Target Field, next season, and their opening day payroll should increase past the franchise record of $71.4 million, set in 2007. By extending Mauer, they could commit nearly a quarter of their payroll to one player. Without a deal, they would have to consider trading Mauer, as the possibility of signing him once he reaches free agency would be minimal.

In the open market, Mauer would likely command an eight-year deal in excess of the eight-year, $180 million contract Mark Teixeira(notes) received last season – and perhaps bigger than Derek Jeter's(notes) 10-year, $189 million contract that is the largest behind Alex Rodriguez's(notes) 10 years at $275 million. The Yankees will need a replacement for catcher Jorge Posada(notes) after 2011. Victor Martinez(notes) isn't expected to catch full time for Boston long term. The Mets' plans at catcher are fluid, as are the Angels'. The Dodgers, who considered moving Russell Martin(notes), remain a possibility as well.

Mauer doesn't relish the idea of free agency as many players do – he's confident and mature enough not to need the ego-stroking involved. However, he understands what it could mean: wild riches, from his contract as well as the ancillary income. Mauer recently hired IMG to handle his sponsorships, which, in a larger market, would mushroom.

Should he decide to stay in Minneapolis, Mauer will do so understanding that he's ceding tens of millions of dollars, and that even a discounted salary – say, $20 million a year – could hinder the team much as Todd Helton's(notes) nine-year, $141.5 million contract has in Colorado. At the same time, Mauer would enjoy playing the rest of his career in front of a hometown crowd and bringing the Twins their first championship since 1991, when he was 8 years old.

Negotiations are expected to begin soon, and they're bound to get intense. The Twins must weigh how they value Mauer against whether they can compete after taking on his huge salary. And Mauer must consider everything: the importance of money, of winning, of staying home – three integral elements that he can only wish intersected perfectly.