Joe Mauer is moving to first base full-time from catcher in 2014. Given the demands of playing catcher, you knew this move was coming eventually. Mauer has never played more than 150 games and saw his 2013 season cut short after a concussion, which helped usher the move to first full-time. Plus, once Justin Morneau’s time in Minnesota was up – he was traded to the Pirates in August – it was only a matter of time before Mauer, 30, moved from behind the plate.
There a couple things to digest here. It’s hard to talk about Mauer without immediately thinking about the eight-year, $184 million deal he signed before the 2011 season which pays him $23 million per year. It’s the seventh-richest deal in baseball history and most for a catcher. Buster Posey makes about $18.5 million through 2021.
Everyone who questioned giving that much money to a catcher at the time of the deal is probably vindicated. Remember, Mauer was a special case, being that he’s a Minnesota native and the club had just opened Target Field in 2010. For the franchise it made sense to overpay to retain the face of the franchise, at least in theory.
Target Field is the other big talking point for Mauer, who’s seen his power sapped since moving away from the Metrodome in 2010. In 2009 Mauer hit a career-high 28 homers – 16 at home. Since then his home run totals at Target Field are 1, 0, 4 and 5. That said his career line in 357 games at the Metrodome was .326/.405/.477. It’s not that far off from his 247 games at Target Field: .321/.402/.425, other than the home run department.
Of course most teams are looking for home run power from their corner infielders. Again Mauer’s slash line at catcher: .328/.408/.481 isn’t very different than when he plays first base: .324/.397/.435, so don’t expect the position switch to alter Mauer all that drastically. When healthy Mauer is the game’s top all-around offensive catcher, now he’s probably somewhere in the range of Top 5-10 at his new position. (He’ll still have catcher eligibility for fantasy for at least one more year, keep that in mind.)
The Twins, though, are paying a load of money now to a singles hitter with a great on-base percentage. Mauer is still an elite offensive player, except his value doesn’t come from homers. The move, long-term, could be akin to Craig Biggio moving from catcher to second base as the two players profile very similar, although a lack of power at second is more amenable than first.
Mauer’s move to first means there’s another mega-contract playing at the position. Here’s a look at the highest-paid first baseman by annual value (not including Mauer), via Baseball Prospectus:
- 1. Ryan Howard, $25,000,000 (2012-16)
- 2. Albert Pujols, $24,000,000 (2012-21)
- 3. Prince Fielder, $23,777,778 (2012-20)
- 4. Mark Teixeira, $22,500,000 (2009-16)
- . . . Joey Votto, $22,500,000 (2014-23)
- 6. Adrian Gonzalez, $22,000,000 (2012-18)
Outside of the Votto and, maybe, the Gonzalez deal, the other players feel grossly overpaid. The Howard and Pujols deals, at the moment, are major albatrosses for both the Phillies and Angels to deal with. Based on the 2013 postseason the Fielder deal looks like a hindrance for the Tigers both in the short-term and long-term, while Teixiera is an unknown after losing almost all of the 2013 season to injury.
Mauer at $23-million per year is overpaid to play first base and only hit about 15 home runs, but he’s still a productive player who gets on base and is a threat to lead the league in batting every season he’s healthy. The Twins and GM Terry Ryan will need to get creative to make up for the lost power at one of the corners.