Here are some things we presume to know about Joe Mauer:
1) His 28 homer season of 2009 was the outlier. He will never approach that figure again, and there’s a good chance he won’t be an MVP-level hitter again. He recently turned 32 and he has a concussion history. He’s on the downside of his prime.
2) Last year, when taken as a whole, was a bad Mauer season — and compared other first baseman, it was just a bad year at the plate, period. That the Twins finished 7th in MLB in runs scored with their best hitter having a down season was truly remarkable.
3) But yes, Mauer still qualifies as the team’s best hitter. He’s obviously their most expensive player, too, but nothing is going to change that. His $23 million contract, though 2018, is what it is.
4) Even Mauer coming down the backside of his career, though, could be a pretty good hitter. We got a look at it in his final 44 games a season ago, when after coming off the DL for an oblique injury he hit .289 with a .397 OBP and an .805 OPS.
That’s more or less the Mauer we’ve seen so far this season: .392 OBP and a .299 average, both boosted by a three-hit game Sunday in which he delivered two runs-scoring extra-base hits, including a game-winning triple in the 11th.
If that’s the Mauer we see over the course of this season — and for at least most of the duration of the rest of his contract — I’m willing to bet the Twins will be happy with that. Fans will still harp on the lack of homers (zero this year), but if he can get back to 45-50 extra base hits every year, get on base and knock in runs, he is not an MVP but he is a very valuable hitter.
As hitters like Kennys Vargas, Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia and Brian Dozier — guys who fueled an offensive surge last year — struggle early, it’s Mauer who has carried a good part of the load. If those guys turn things around and Mauer is still rolling at a good clip, the offense could be downright dangerous.