Souhan: With Morneau gone, it's time for Mauer to move to first

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 2, 2013 - 12:45 PM

Morneau, Pinto moves will smooth the way for a transition.

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Joe Mauer should get used to wearing that first baseman's glove.

Photo: Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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Even if the Twins hadn’t traded Justin Morneau and called up Josmil Pinto this weekend, they would have been forced to muse over about the future of Joe Mauer.

This weekend’s decisions made the path clear as a manicured base path.

Mauer’s difficulty in recovering from a concussion is the latest and strongest reason to move him from catcher to first base. Without Morneau on the roster to block him, it’s time for Mauer to become a new-age Rod Carew.

The Twins will speak kindly of Morneau and leave open the possibility of re-signing him this winter, but he no longer fits, even if he wanted to return. He hasn’t hit 20 home runs in a season since his 2010 concussion, and the Twins hope to be forced to find playing time in the future for Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks and Chris Parmelee, as well as Mauer.

The promotion of Pinto, who performed well at Class AA and AAA this season, should make the transition for Mauer even easier, if the Twins are wise enough to move him to first.

Pinto should be given an opportunity to be the Twins’ starting catcher next year. He’s 24. He can hit. He has a strong arm. Mauer can’t catch without risking further concussions. Writing down next year’s Opening Day lineup just became much easier.

Even if the Twins wanted to force Morneau or Parmelee into the lineup, they could use either at DH.

It’s time to move Mauer to a position that will allow him to stay in the lineup every day. The argument against this is that Mauer can only provide value under the parameters of his contract if he is a catcher.

That’s nonsensical. The Twins spent $184 million on Mauer for a variety of reasons, including the marketing of a new stadium and his status as a homegrown MVP, and that money is gone. It’s guaranteed. Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire need to put the best possible team on the field, and keeping Mauer in the lineup is more important than keeping him behind the plate.

At Class AA and AAA this season, Pinto hit .309 with 15 home runs, 74 RBI and a .400 on-base percentage. If he’s not ready to play in the big leagues now, he may never be.

Chris Herrmann has proved he can be a good backup catcher and utility player this summer. He and Pinto should be able to handle catching duties. With fresh legs, Mauer may again hit .365.

Mauer is not recovering quickly from this concussion, and he will never be able to avoid foul tips and home-plate collisions while catching. It’s time to move him, and if the organization deems Pinto unready to replace him, there is one other, bizarre-yet-logical option behind the plate:

His name is A.J. Pierzynski.

Pierzynski signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers this winter. The Twins could use his durability and competitive at-bats, but what they really need is his personality.

For the last three seasons, the Twins haven’t just been awful. They’ve been lifeless.

They need a player in the clubhouse who hates losing in a demonstrable way. For too many current and recent Twins, Target Field is not a ballpark, it is an ATM with lockers.

There is one other player who should have arrived in the Twins’ clubhouse on the same day as Pinto: Miguel Sano.

What the Twins should learn from Hicks’ awful rookie season is that he should have been called up last September. His first big-league at-bat should have come batting ninth against some middle-of-the-rotation Royal, not batting leadoff on Opening Day at Target Field against Justin Verlander.

Sano will make it to the big leagues next year, which is why he should be at Target Field this September. There’s no reason to wait now.

The Twins need Sano in Minnesota to acclimate, Pinto to replace Mauer and maybe even Pierzynski as an espresso shot for the a clubhouse that is the baseball equivalent of camomile tea.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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