mauerhammockJoe Mauer is slated to come off the disabled list in time for tonight’s game against the Astros. It sounds as though either Trevor Plouffe or Oswaldo Arcia could go on the DL to make room, which is a nice relief because it means the Twins are going to fiddle with big Kennys Vargas (not that they would, anyway, since he’s been batting in the middle of their order and doing just fine).

We don’t know what this will mean for the lineup as a whole, but we do know this: the Twins have 46 games left in this season, and they are an important 46 games for Mauer. For all the jokes about Mauer’s durability and not playing in day games after night games, he appeared in at least 130 games in five of six seasons between 2005-2010. Since then, he’s done it only once — in a quite good 2012 season. Otherwise, it was 82 games in 2011, 113 last season and 76 so far this year.

Saying “Mauer needs to stay healthy” is a little too simple because nobody *tries* to get injured. But considering the Twins still owe Mauer $92 million from 2015-2018 — half of his eight-year contract — it is important to see a healthy, productive Mauer as the Twins play out the stretch run.

He’s still the team’s most accomplished hitter, by far. At 31, he might be at the start of a decline. How sharp that decline is, though, will of course determine just how much value the Twins will get for that large chunk of payroll — and be a significant factor if and when the Twins’ top prospects arrive en masse and potentially help engineer a real turnaround.

A productive Mauer always figured to be part of the plan for the team to contend in 2015/16 and beyond. Even if Mauer could return to 2013 levels for the rest of 2014 (.880 OPS), it would be a good sign. He was showing flashes of that before this last oblique injury; a consistent stretch of it would be a very welcome, and perhaps critically important, sight for the Twins as they prepare for the future.