A dozen years ago the Minnesota Twins drafted Joe Mauer, a local three-sport standout from Cretin-Derham Hall, as the number one overall pick. This was a huge moment for Minnesota sports fans, but also came as a shock to many as the Twins passed on the collegiate national player of the year, USC pitcher Mark Prior, who apparently did not want to play for Minnesota. By 2003, Prior was pitching for the Chicago Cubs and finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting with an 18-6 record and a 2.43 ERA. Sports talk radio blew up in Minnesota as fans questioned whether GM Terry Ryan made the right choice drafting Joe Mauer. Over the following three seasons from 2004-2006, Prior compiled an average 18-17 record after a series of nagging injuries. The now 32-year old Prior hasn’t pitched a major league game since 2006 and was released from a minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds on June 28th.
The Minnesota Twins reached the playoffs in 2002 and defeated the “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics in the ALDS. By 2004, Minnesota had traded their all-star catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, to San Francisco which opened the door for Mauer who became the Twins full-time catcher in 2005. The 22-year old Mauer hit .294 in 131 games, and followed up his impressive rookie season by winning the American League batting title in 2006 by hitting .347 and leading the Twins to another AL Central division title. Now in his ninth full year, Mauer has won three batting titles (2006, 2008-2009), three Gold Gloves Awards (2008-2010), one MVP Award (2009) and is currently hitting .323 (3rd in AL) in another sub .500 season for the Minnesota Twins.
Minnesota loves Joe Mauer, and Joe Mauer loves Minnesota. Despite all the “Minnesota Nice”, a major concern for Twins fans is Mauer’s lack of power with only 102 career home runs. His current contract has the Minnesota Twins paying him $23 million a year through 2018. This seems a bit high for a player who has only surpassed 90 RBI once in his career with 96 in his MVP season of 2009. With rising stars Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano ready to join the Twins in the next year or two, one has to ask if the contract of Mauer is worth keeping around in the land of 10,000 lakes? The thirty year old catcher is still in the prime of his career and leads all active major leaguers with a career .323 average. There is no doubt that GMs around the league have been calling with trade offers, but what does Minnesota do if they continue to lose through next season? Should the Twins stick with arguably one the top 5 catchers of all time?
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