*The Twins have had MLB’s highest-scoring offense over the past three weeks — helped along by scoring 62 runs in seven games against the Rangers.
*The Twins are in the midst of a youth movement, and a lot of those young players have fueled that offensive surge.
*We’re at the All-Star Break now, a time traditionally reserved for some rest and reflection (as well as an exhibition game that will determine home-field advantage for a World Series in which the Twins almost certainly will not be playing).
This is a dangerous combination because it combines a blistering but small sample size with a time in which there is little else to write about in the baseball world, but let’s go here and ask this question anyway:
With this youth movement well underway and at least producing some very nice short-term results — “The young guys have injected some life,” as manager Paul Molitor said on Sunday after a 15-5 rout of Texas that was keyed by Max Kepler’s grand slam — have we come to the point where Joe Mauer is no longer an automatic everyday player in the Twins’ lineup?
I ask that with trepidation for a number of reasons — the least of which, actually, are concerns over Mauer’s $23 million salary or how the comments on any post involving Mauer often turn into a mess.
For as pedestrian as Mauer’s numbers have become in the past 2.5 season, he still has a robust .372 on-base percentage this season — second among regulars to Robbie Grossman. He’s still the most respected hitter in the lineup in key situations, as evidenced by his 8 intentional walks (more than half the team total of 14). And he’s on a nice little one-week surge of his own, hitting .435 with a 1.022 OPS since July 4 after bottoming out with a .258 average the day before (his lowest mark of the season).
But I ask anyway because:
*If the Twins are serious about getting a good look at a lot of up-and-comers in the second half of the season, cutting Mauer’s playing time is a way to achieve that. If you want to have an outfield of Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler … while still wanting a longer look at Robbie Grossman (perhaps at DH) and ridiculously red-hot Kennys Vargas (at first base), there’s not a spot for Mauer.
And indeed, in the seven games in which Rosario and Vargas have both been back, Mauer has only started five — completely sitting out one while pinch-hitting in the ninth inning of another game.
*As noted, Mauer has been on fire in the past week — while also sitting out the better part of two games. Perhaps he’s at a point in his career, at age 33, when playing fewer games would benefit him? Maybe it’s even possible that Mauer — who averaged 133 games per season from 2006 to 2009, when he won three batting titles and an MVP award while primarily playing catcher — has always been better off when he gets regular full days of rest even if he’s playing a less physically demanding position now?
Again, some of these questions are based on small sample sizes from players who have a track record of coming back down to earth. Any or all among Rosario, Kepler, Grossman and Vargas could hit a cold stretch to start the second half, tempting Molitor to use Mauer in nearly automatic fashion. And if that happened, you’d be able to pencil Mauer in for enough hits to keep his average around .270 and enough walks to make him valuable at the top of the lineup.
But it’s also fair to wonder if Mauer playing less — say, four or five times a week instead of virtually every day — might be best for the development of the Twins and the robustness of the lineup, both on days Mauer plays and days he doesn’t play.