Joe Mauer and Zach Parise have enough personal and professional similarities that sometimes it seems as though they are living the same life.
Both are Minnesota natives who ended up starring for their home state professional teams. Both have led Minnesota teams to multiple playoff appearances during generally successful eras for their teams. Both are even fathers of twins.
And then there’s this: Both of them were in prime position to cash in on monster contracts with their hometown teams at just the right time.
Mauer agreed to his eight-year, $184 million contract with the Twins in March of 2010. He was coming off an MVP season, and the Twins were about to get an injection of cash from moving into Target Field. The deal, which took effect in the 2011 season, was a no-brainer from the Twins’ standpoint. They would do it 100 times out of 100 given the circumstances leading up to it.
Parise agreed to his 13-year, $98 million contract in tandem with defenseman Ryan Suter in July of 2012. The Wild had missed the playoffs four years in a row. Fan enthusiasm was dwindling. The length of the contracts for both established players was always going to be problematic, but the Wild absolutely would do it again given where the franchise was positioned that summer.
Mauer delivered a very solid 2010 season before the new deal kicked in. Then came the infamous “bilateral leg weakness” diagnosis of 2011 and an injury-marred season. If fans didn’t like his contract before 2011, they were screaming “eight more years of this!?” afterward.
Mauer delivered better years in 2012 and 2013 before a variety of factors — concussion woes chief among them — diminished his productivity from 2014-16. Mauer, though, had his best season since 2013 this year. He hit .305 and was fifth in the American League with a .384 on-base percentage. He will turn 35 early next season — the last year of that eight-year deal.
Minnesota fans might never truly move on from opinions that Mauer was overpaid and underdelivered, but I’m already sensing a shift. If the casual gripe for several years has been Mauer’s contract, a lot of that ire and concern is now heading Parise’s way.
Parise was pretty much as advertised during the first four years of his deal, bringing the Wild relentless effort and plenty of production. Last season a back injury sapped him of productivity. In all five seasons, the Wild made the postseason and restored faith (and crowds) at Xcel Energy Center.
That back injury, though, is still present. Parise will miss the Wild’s opener Thursday at Detroit and the game after that. The hope is to have him healthy soon.
A back injury is massively different from a concussion in many ways, but in two key ways it’s similar: Its effects can linger — and their full impact are only fully known by the sufferer.
The same fans who accused Mauer of being soft and overpaid or worse are now turning on Parise. As Mauer’s contract winds down, Parise’s still has eight years (counting this one) remaining, with a $7.5 million cap hit each year. He’s 33 now and will be 40 when that final year of the deal arrives.
Parise can only hope to prove those fans wrong — and to have a smoother next eight years than Mauer has experienced.