Archived Story

A $184 million dilemma

Published 8:56am Thursday, April 21, 2011

Column: Second Thoughts

The Minnesota Twins have a number of early-season problems. The team’s 50 runs are the fewest in Major League Baseball and it’s pitching staff has the 23rd highest ERA. It’s no surprise the Twins not only have the fewest wins (6) in the AL Central but in American League, but the team’s biggest problem is the health of its MVP catcher Joe Mauer.

Mauer, 28, signed an eight-year, $184 million contract before the 2010 season. Each time Joe Mauer misses a start, it costs the Twins $142,000. That’s a lot of dough. Each time Mauer misses a start because of “bilateral leg weakness,” it still costs the Twins $142,000 — but it also creates 142,000 reasons why Mauer shouldn’t sit behind home plate.

Since making his big league debut in 2004, Mauer has been relatively healthy. On average, he’s played in three out of every four games during his career but has already missed half of the young 2011 season. Currently on the 15-day disabled list with leg weakness, Mauer leaves a gaping offensive hole in a lineup that’s batting a measly .231. It’s time to move Mauer from behind the plate to any other defensive position, save the middle infield.

We know Mauer’s athletic. He’s the only prep athlete to win National Player of the Year in two sports (football and baseball), and his 6-foot-5-inch, 235-pound frame would be well suited for either corner infield or outfield spot.

The Twins are set at first base with Justin Morneau, and Danny Valencia has proved valuable at third through just under one full season. Denard Span should stay put in centerfield but those deep corner spots have some wiggle room.

Since having a career year in 2009, Michael Cuddyer has underperfomed his $24 million contract and become more of a utility infielder than the strong-armed right fielder of the past. At this point, with Jason Kubel being the most consistent batter in the Twins lineup, 32-year-old Cuddyer could be the savvy veteran a contending team might trade a catching prospect for. If Jim Thome ever stops crushing the ball in his 40s, Kubel can slide back to DH and Mauer to RF.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column runs every Thursday in the Tribune.