Joe Mauer's trip to the disabled list for a concussion stemming from a foul-tip off his mask has helped revive a discussion about what Mauer's future holds.
Noted podcasting and indoors enthusiast Aaron Gleeman had a very nice post taking us through the ins and outs of the discussion. He even used a lot of numbers and facts!
The boiled down version: Mauer is an elite catcher, which the eye test and the advanced stats tell us. If he was moved permanently, or at least primarily, to first base, his place in the pecking order would drop -- he would still be elite in terms of batting average and on-base percentage, but his slugging percentage would be more like middle-of-the-pack.
In terms of his injury, logic says catchers would seem to be more susceptible to concussion problems, though the data Gleeman uses seems to be a pretty small sample size (the high number of catchers who have gone on the 7-day concussion DL this season).
The long and short of it: Mauer more or less earns his keep as a catcher, despite what some might think of his $23 million yearly salary (through 2018). He would be less valuable at first base, and he would take away that position from another big hitter -- a position where it is much easier to find offensive production than at catcher. That said, the $23 million is completely sunk if he cannot play, which goes back to the concussion risk (and he's still not feeling well right now, it should be noted).
Our inclination on this is that Mauer should remain a catcher, through the length of his contract, for at least 85-90 games per season. At bats at DH and 1B are fine, but if he is not the primary catcher, it has a negative ripple effect on the roster and payroll that decreases the Twins' margin for error. While it stands to reason that he could stay healthier with a position switch, nothing is guaranteed (see Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie).
That said, we entirely get the other side of the argument and agree that the concussion threat has added a new wrinkle to an old question about a position switch. It is reasonable, and concussions should not be treated lightly by any means. It is the most fascinating long-term question facing the Twins, particularly as they try to gear up to be relevant again in the coming seasons.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.