When the Twins try to decide what kind of a contract Joe Mauer might receive next year, they will certainly consider the good years he has had, along with the chunks of playing time he has missed because of injury.
The fact that Mauer has missed so much time because of injuries will certainly play a factor in that contract.
As far as his side of the decision, Mauer makes it very clear that because of his family and his ties to Minnesota, he definitely wants to sign a contract and finish his career here.
But he also dealt with three difficult seasons trying to come back from a bad concussion issue that made it so he couldn’t play catcher anymore, something he says he still misses.
“I really enjoyed that part of the game and calling pitches and getting the best out of our pitchers every night,” Mauer said before the team started its nine-game road trip. “I do miss it. I definitely like the challenge of learning the position over at first, and I just enjoy to keep playing.”
Big games at Wrigley
There’s no player who can understand the ups and downs of baseball better than Mauer, a potential Hall of Famer who has won an MVP award and three AL batting titles and at one time was viewed as potentially the greatest offensive catcher in the game.
Take a look at his latest stretch. Mauer returned from the disabled list and hit .154 in his first 11 games before exploding vs. the Cubs on Friday, going 3-for-5 with a three-run homer and five RBI. He added a three-run double Saturday.
“It has been a challenging year for me personally, so far. But it is good to be back,” he said. “I missed some time there diving for that ball in Anaheim. But it feels good to be back and hopefully we can get back on track playing some good baseball.”
From 2004 to 2013, Mauer hit .323 and averaged 10 homers, 69 runs, 63 RBI and a .405 on-base percentage while averaging 118 games per season.
From 2014 to ’16, he hit .267 and averaged eight homers, 66 runs, 57 RBI and a .353 on-base percentage while averaging 137 games per season.
But Mauer got healthy and played great in 2017, finishing in the top 10 in the AL in batting average at .305 and posting a .384 on-base percentage while playing Gold Glove defense at first base.
He started this season great, as well. He was hitting .283 with a .404 on-base percentage, one of the top marks in baseball, when he hurt himself again and concussion symptoms returned.
Searching for health
It has been a rough year for manager Paul Molitor’s club. Mauer said the only positive that can come out of this kind of season is that a number of players are getting a chance to perform who wouldn’t normally if everyone was healthy or playing to their ability.
“There have been some guys that have had opportunities present themselves to other guys,” he said. “I mean, [Eduardo] Escobar has been having a great year getting to play every day and he has responded. It gives opportunities for other guys to get out there and contribute.”
When Mauer was asked if he has to be careful at first base after getting injured, he said that baseball will always have fluke injuries.
“It was just one of those things where I was trying to make a play and it happened,” he said. “Now that I’m back in the lineup and feeling good I try not to think about it and just go out there and play the game the way I always would have. I think when you start thinking about things like that, then you play a little timid and make mistakes.”
Mauer said that despite the Twins’ losing record, he is staying positive about the team and the season.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges up to this point,” he said. “If we get healthy and start playing baseball the way we know how, anything can happen. There’s a lot of games left. We have a lot of games to make ground. We’re still excited about our chances, and hopefully we can get on a roll here.”
Advice for Buxton
When Byron Buxton was picked No. 2 overall in 2012, he was the highest Twins draft pick since Mauer went No. 1 in 2001. And Buxton, like Mauer, has battled injuries early in his career.
Mauer was asked what advice he gives Buxton.
“It’s tough, you definitely applaud the guy for trying to play through [his foot injury] and you look in our clubhouse right now and no one is 100 percent,” Mauer said. “I think 100 percent went out the window for everybody after the first day of spring training. But guys are in there and battling with different things throughout the season.
“Buck had obviously the foot problem, and you try to play through it. He’s so valuable to us, and his legs, that’s his game, and when you take that away it’s tough to compete.”
It’s hard to imagine, even after another injury, that Mauer won’t be back in 2019. He said when he thinks about his career, playing for the Twins is all he has ever imagined.
“I definitely would love to stay here,” he said. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do is keep putting this uniform on. I don’t see anything other than that. I enjoy playing here in front of family and friends and hopefully I can do that.”
• Rick Spielman’s love of draft day trades brought the Vikings Danielle Hunter, who signed a five-year, $72 million deal this past week. The Vikings traded the No. 80 overall pick in 2015 to Detroit for picks No. 88 and 143. USA Today reported that Hunter’s 25½ career sacks are the 10th most by a player 23 or younger in NFL history. Houston star J.J. Watt had 26 sacks by that age.
• Pro Football Focus and ESPN ranked the Vikings as having the fifth-best personnel in the NFL behind the Eagles, Falcons, Saints and Patriots. Safety Harrison Smith was ranked as their best player overall and wide receiver Stefon Diggs as their best offensive player.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. will be healthy for fall camp. “Everyone will be ready for training camp,” Fleck said. “We’re excited about it. It’s really good to see guys like Thomas Barber, Blake Cashman, coming back not only healthy but coming back better than they were.” Fleck also has started with scholarship offers for the Class of 2021.
• Rob Goebel is the football coach at Southwest High in Fort Worth, Texas, where Gophers recruit Nnamdi Adim-Madumere is a wideout. Goebel told GopherIllustrated that Adim-Madumere is one of the smartest players he has ever coached, adding, “He also went from an all-state left tackle as a freshman to picking up helmet offers as a wide receiver two years later.”
• The Gophers men’s basketball team recently offered Sam Freeman from Justin, Texas, a scholarship for the Class of 2019. Freeman is a 6-8 center who was completely under the radar when he came to a Gophers camp with his team from Dallas.
• Some local names to keep an eye on at the NBA summer league: Lakeville North’s J.P. Macura (Charlotte), Cooper’s Rashad Vaughn (Miami), Apple Valley’s Gary Trent Jr. (Portland), Columbia Heights’ Zach Lofton (Detroit) and Mahtomedi’s Nuni Omot (Golden State).