Twins fans will probably have to wait until 2019 to find out if this was the final season Joe Mauer played for his hometown club.
The 2001 No. 1 overall draft pick, 2009 AL MVP, six-time All-Star and three-time batting champion is in the final year of his historic eight-year, $184 million deal signed in 2010, and Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey has said he will wait until the offseason to do any contract negotiations with Mauer, who would hit free agency at age 36.
However things play out, there is no doubt that Mauer’s career with the Twins has been unprecedented, both in his play and in that mega-deal he signed eight years ago.
To this day, the $184 million deal reached March 22, 2010, a few weeks before the season began, stands as the most money given to a Minnesota professional athlete in a single contract. There were noteworthy circumstances that led to Mauer and agent Ron Shapiro getting that kind of money from the Twins.
Mauer was coming off not only his best season but one of the greatest seasons in the history of baseball. In 2009 he hit .365 with a .444 on-base percentage and .587 slugging percentage, all of which led the American League. The last person to accomplish that had been Kansas City’s George Brett in 1980.
In addition, the Twins were set to open Target Field, with public money paying for a good portion of its $555 million price tag. Team ownership had to know that if the Twins let Mauer walk in free agency, it would not look good for public relations.
As Buster Olney wrote for ESPN the day Mauer agreed to the deal, “If Mauer had become a free agent in the fall, he probably would have been the most coveted free agent since [Alex] Rodriguez reached free agency after the 2000 season. With the use of total free-agent leverage, Mauer might have commanded a deal for something in the range of $250 million in the fall.”
Now Mauer will be a free agent again, in a much different situation.
Historic by any number
While Mauer’s deal was the perfect timing of a pending hometown free agent coming off a historic season, with the team opening a new ballpark, it might not be the most incredible contract in state history.
That probably goes to Kevin Garnett when he and the Timberwolves changed NBA contracts forever after he signed his six-year, $126 million deal in 1997 at the age of 21. That deal helped lead to the 1998 NBA lockout.
On top of that, Andrew Wiggins’ recent five-year, $146 million deal will have a higher per-season average. Wiggins will average $29.2 million per season, compared to Mauer’s $23 million.
You also have the dual deals that the Wild gave Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in July 2012, which had an unprecedented length at 13 years for $98 million for each player.
Still there is no question that Mauer’s deal remains the most talked-about contract in state history.
You have to wonder if the Twins and Mauer can find a deal like the Wolves gave Garnett late in his career — two years for $16.5 million in 2015.
Mauer ready, healthy
The good news for Mauer and the Twins is that the first baseman has picked up where he left off last season, hitting .364 through the first seven games of the season, after struggling to regain his form from 2014 to ’16.
Mauer said that last year, when he finished the season seventh in the AL in batting average at .305 and fifth in on-base percentage at .384 while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense, came from entering the season feeling truly healthy, which is how he feels this year.
“I was healthy, I felt good, and you know it was just a fun year all around,” he said. “We had a lot of guys have great years in the clubhouse, and that translated to the team having success.
“I have been feeling better and better. Going into this year I feel good, too. I’m excited about 2018 and looking forward to building on what we started last year.”
When asked if he would like to play more in 2018, Mauer said it’s not just about what he wants but about having manager Paul Molitor watching out for his playing time.
“I think I would always say yes, but I think last year with the success, we had I think a similar schedule, I was out there every day that I could,” he said. “I think something along the lines of last year worked out pretty well.”
Yes, the Twins are hoping for another great season as Mauer approaches 2,000 career hits. The big question for both parties will be what happens after this season.
For his part, he said he’s approaching this season much the same as he has done every year, thinking only about the game.
“I think if you asked me that 10 years ago I’m usually focused on the year at hand,” Mauer said. “You know I love being a Minnesota Twin and I love this organization and I have chosen to stay here for a long time and I would like to do that.
“But you know right now I’m not looking past 2018. I’m looking forward to just enjoying the heck out of this season and building off of what we did last season.”
• Recommended for Gophers football fans: Make plans for the spring game at noon Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. It is guaranteed to be a real football contest.
• Speaking of the spring game, coach P.J. Fleck talked about his expectations for his redshirt freshmen. “There is a reason we redshirted them. They have gotten bigger, stronger, faster. … But you’re still young. You’re still freshmen. But again, you can start taking big strides in your redshirt year.”
• Former Twins All-Star catcher Tim Laudner is a big booster of current backup catcher Mitch Garver, who hit .291 with 17 home runs in 88 games at Rochester last season.
• The Wall Street Journal ran a story this past week that said venues such as U.S. Bank Stadium, which will play host to the 2019 Final Four, are basically a new breed of stadium and that venues such as San Antonio’s Alamodome most likely will not be able to compete for those kinds of events going forward.
• Two NFL draft analysts, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports and Charles Davis of NFL.com, believe the Vikings will take Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey with their first-round pick, No. 30 overall, later this month.
• The Vikings social media team had a great sideline video of Stefon Diggs “Minneapolis Miracle” catch in the playoffs. That video is now a finalist for a Webby Award, an award for Internet excellence.
• At least 10 former Gophers will be playing in the minor leagues this season. Pitchers Ben Meyer (Marlins), D.J. Snelten (Giants) and Tom Windle (Phillies) are at Class AAA. The rest are expected to start at Class A: catcher Austin Athmann (Tigers), outfielder Matt Fiedler (Cardinals) and pitchers Alec Crawford (Brewers), Lucas Gilbreath (Rockies), Brian Glowicki (Cubs), Jordan Jess(Pirates) and Dalton Sawyer (Athletics).