First off, I'm glad the Twins signed Joe Mauer to an eight-year contract and I'm not particularly concerned that the Pohlads are spending $23 million per year on the catcher-who-will-eventually-become-something else. The Twins organization knows that their combo platter of a new ballpark and the need to fill it is a spend money-to-make money thing. The trick is to spend wisely.
You don't build a mansion and fill it with thrift shop bric-a-brac. Letting Mauer escape would have been similar folly.
Earlier this week, there was a bit of a training camp dust-up when Mauer sounded unhappy that Gardy talked to reporters about the injections that Mauer has gotten in his knee. La Velle's reporting put it in perspective, pointing out others who've had the same treatment, among other things.
"I kind of wish it wasn't out there," Mauer told reporters.
At $23 million, every little thing Mauer does (or doesn't do) will be out there -- held under that much more powerful of a microscope than in the past. What is the over/under on the number of times he'll be referred to as "the $23 million man" in comments sections on the web?
His situation is much, much different from someone like Luke Ridnour of the Timberwolves, who has missed more games that he's played recently because of "personal issues" that have not been discussed in any detail. I don't feel like I need to know what's up with Ridnour, and I simply hope that whatever is up turns out OK.
Mauer would not have that privacy.
As the face of the franchise, not to mention MLB'11 The Show, Mauer will live in a transparent bubble with spotlights focused and cameras clicking and microphones-in-waiting at every turn. Kind of like an Anglo Tsuyoshi. As the Twins travel, Mauer will be their rock star. Twins fans will care about every little thing in a way they simply won't about the other 24 guys on the roster.
In a backhanded way, Mauer is lucky to have a boredom factor working for him. His play on the field is 10,000 times more interesting than most of what he says about it. That's the way he's been since joining the Twins and I'm kind of glad Mauer and his people never made it a priority for him to do anything about it. During his time in New York last week promoting MLB'11, Mauer managed to bob-and-weave through all of the Albert Pujols questions that were tossed at him, with perhaps the most revealing thing I heard from that trip being how players supposedly use the video game as a "learning tool."
I kind of hope that he was exaggerating on that one.
Mauer needs to accept the unfortunate fact that there will be people who:
*Will expect a .380 average and 162 games behind the plate in return for that $23 million.
*Will expect 40 homers in addition to said average and games played.
*Will question his toughness whenever he doesn't play.
*Will expect him to be as quotable as Michael Cuddyer.
*Will demand that he catch through 2018 in return for the money.
*Will demand that he switch positions soon to preserve his health in return for the money.
*Will want him to give his jersey to a young child after every home game.
I kind of hope I'm exaggerating on that one.
The point is, nothing Mauer will do will be enough for some people.
I expect him to be a team leader through his play and through his energy. I'd like numbers that would be at the midpoint of his last two seasons. I don't want him worn out in September, and will trust Gardy and Mauer to navigate the best way to make that happen. I want him to carry the Twins for a couple of stretches, as he did for that month-long stretch last summer when he reached base 54 percent of the time and the Twins went 18-4.
I really want one of those stretches to come in October.
I want us to remember that Mauer can't bring home championships by himself. For evidence, I submit his incredible run in May 2009, when he had 11 home runs, a .500 on-base percentage and 32 RBI in 26 starts. The Twins went 13-13.
We have the right to expect a lot from Mauer for $23 million per year. And Mauer needs to accept that some expectations will be unreasonable, extreme and part of the price of the deal.