This is a good time to be Joe Mauer.

Well, OK, pretty much anytime is a good time to be Joe Mauer. How many 26-year-olds make millions starring in the game they love in their hometown while women of all ages offer to swap chest protectors with them?

Now is a particularly good time to be Joe Mauer, though, because right now his agent is negotiating a contract with the Twins, and Mauer has more leverage than Pat Williams on a teeter-totter.

Ron Shapiro, Mauer's agent, has the easiest job this side of Brett Favre's razor. Never before has a Minnesota athlete, by virtue of talent, geography, popularity and timing, held this kind of negotiating advantage while seeking a record-breaking contract.

The Twins know they have to sign Mauer. Mauer knows the Twins know they have to sign him. Shapiro knows the Twins know if they don't sign Mauer, fans will fill Target Field -- with pitchforks and torches.

Mauer's not just One of Us, he represents the best of us -- a lifelong Minnesotan who blends Bud Grant's stoicism with Kent Hrbek's fire.

Paul Molitor, Jack Morris and Dave Winfield grew up in St. Paul and returned home at the end of their careers, but they were not available to the Twins in their prime.

Mauer never left. As perhaps the best football player and baseball player in the country while at Cretin-Derham Hall, Mauer became the first pick in a deep draft that included Mark Teixeira and Mark Prior. Given a choice between playing for Florida State or in the Florida State League, he chose bus rides with the franchise he grew up watching.

The local athlete most comparable to Mauer is Bloomington's Hrbek, who, like Mauer, chose the Twins farm system over college and excelled. Even with two World Series rings, though, Hrbek's career can't compare in impact or uniqueness to Mauer's.

Three times, an American League catcher has won batting titles. All three times, it was Mauer. Mauer just won the AL MVP Award and, given reasonable health, should one day be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Once he's there, he might even lobby for Bert Blyleven to get in.

Mauer's value is increased by his age. How many times has a homegrown star won an MVP at the age of 26 with free agency and a new stadium on the horizon?

He is the rare catcher who can dominate with his arm, bat and eye. While there are plenty of first basemen and outfielders who make an offensive impact on the game, Mauer gives the Twins an unparalleled advantage because of the position he plays.

If the Twins don't sign him soon, he will start contemplating free agency, which would arrive after the end of the 2010 season. As a free agent, Mauer would become the subject of a bidding war between the Yankees and Red Sox that could push his yearly salary to $30 million.

The Twins can't compete in that arena, so they know they have to sign Mauer now, and probably sign him at a figure that borders on financial insanity for a budget-concious franchise.

For the Twins to start the season in taxpayer-funded Target Field without a Mauer deal in place would put the Twins' resurrected brand at risk, as well as all of the optimism that surrounds the christening of a beautiful ballpark.

Mauer returning to Target Field wearing the Boston 'B' or Yankee pinstripes would ruin the reputation of every decision-maker in the Twins front office and ownership suite.

The Twins were bound to lose Johan Santana, who wanted to play in New York. They made a logical, if ill-fated, decision when they allowed Torii Hunter to leave.

This is different. This is a great everyday player from St. Paul coming off an MVP season and entering his prime as his popular franchise prepares to open a new stadium designed to support a payroll that will allow it to keep its best players.

Mauer is on his way to becoming the most popular athlete, or the most devastating athletic defection, in the history of Minnesota.

He knows it. His agent knows it. The Twins know it. So maybe this is a particularly good time to be Ron Shapiro.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday, and 6:40 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. •