Joe Mauer won’t reveal the location where the meeting took place. He admitted it took place at a St. Paul restaurant where he likes to go and knows he can dine in relative peace.
“I don’t want to say it because then it won’t be quiet,” he said.
Across from him sat his old friend and new manager, Paul Molitor. It was a meeting that had to happen, from Molitor’s point of view.
Molitor needed to see where Mauer’s head was at following a 2014 season that, statistically, was the worst the three-time batting champion has endured.
Mauer said he lost track of how long last week’s meeting lasted, but both Cretin High School grads emerged from the meal upbeat about where Mauer and the Twins are positioned heading into the season.
“We talked about a lot of things, to be honest,” Molitor said. “It was good to see Joe in a good place. I think he feels good about the work he has done this winter.”
Mauer, 31, made a full-time switch from catcher to first base last season, thinking there would be less wear and tear on his body. He started at a deficit heading into last season, because it took him until January to recover from a concussion. That kept him from working out. Then he suffered from back spasms in May and an oblique strain in July that cost him 40 days and 34 games. He finished with a career-low .277 batting average, a paltry four home runs and 55 RBI — the fewest since his injury-plagued 2011 season.
This offseason, Mauer finally didn’t have to recover from some ailment and could participate fully in an offseason conditioning program. He trained with St. Paul stretching guru Roger Erickson. Former Vikings player Matt Birk worked with Erickson for years, and Erickson also has worked with the Baltimore Ravens. Erickson made sure Perry Castellano, the Twins’ strength and conditioning coordinator, was aware of what they were doing.
“I think [Mauer has] done a little research and figured out how he can improve and make adjustments,” Molitor said.
Mauer said he feels more flexible and his legs are strong. He’s pleased with his left knee, which he needs to be sound so he can drive the ball. That has been a problem in the past but is not now.
“I feel strong,” Mauer said. “It’s tough to hit when the knee I’ve had problems with isn’t right. That’s where you get your power from and the ball jumps. I feel good. I’m excited to get out there. I’m starting to swing this week and will see how much progress I have made.”
Mauer sounded upbeat and was as engaging as ever when he met with reporters during TwinsFest.
“That’s probably why Paul was saying I was in a good place,” Mauer said. “I’m feeling good. I feel good about the moves we’ve been making. And personally I feel good about the season.”
The Twins were fifth in the American League in runs scored last season — eighth in in the majors — and they are wondering what the offense can do with a full year of Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas in the lineup, the experience Torii Hunter brings, the emergence of Trevor Plouffe as a solid player and another season of development from Oswaldo Arcia.
Plus, Mauer batting closer to his .319 career average and nearing his .401 career on-base percentage.
“There is no question if we get him to the point where he’s back to normal, our offense has a chance to be pretty good,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “As he goes with that offense, he’s going to lead the way. Because people are always looking to see where he’s coming around in that lineup.
“We’re not looking for 20 home runs out of Joe. I don’t think it’s realistic anymore, but he’s got the ability to put some fear in the opposition.”
If Mauer can approach his career numbers, on a team with a promising offense and a stronger rotation following the signing of Ervin Santana, a fifth consecutive season of 90 losses or more is less of a possibility.
And a run at .500 becomes a possibility.
“I know we have a lot of young talent,” said Mauer, who’s heading into his 12th major league season. “It’s definitely nice to get excited about that, and we should get excited about that. But I don’t see why with the guys that we have right here that we can’t make a splash this year.”