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The Minnesota Twins have already traded Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, Lance Lynn, Zach Duke, Ryan Pressly and Fernando Rodney, seemingly with little difficulty.
It won’t be so easy to move their resident All-Star, batting champion and American League MVP.
That would be Joe Mauer. According to Mike Berardino of Pioneer Press, the 35-year-old first baseman cleared revocable waivers last week. That means none of Major League Baseball’s 29 other teams put in a claim on him.
Mind you, this doesn’t mean Mauer can’t be traded.
If anything, it’s easier for the Twins to deal him. Had a team claimed him while he was on waivers, the Twins only could have worked out an agreement with that club. They’re now free to trade him anywhere ahead of the August 31 deadline to acquire postseason-eligible players.
This will take three to tango, however. And the Twins may be the only ones willing to show up for this particular dance.
There’s a question of whether Mauer would accept a move or exercise his no-trade clause. He’s a native of nearby St. Paul, Minnesota, and he indicated in July he would prefer to stay where he is.
“These types of decisions, I think most people think of just the baseball and not the big picture,” Mauer told Berardino. “I have a lot more than just the baseball part. I think I’ve made it pretty clear over the years where I want to be and what I want to be doing and that really hasn’t changed.”
The Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees are three contenders who could use an upgrade at first base. But none of the three truly needs one, and they may be unwilling to reach for one with a salary as big as Mauer’s.
He’s in the final season of the eight-year, $184 million contract extension he signed in 2010, when he was fresh off winning the AL MVP award as baseball’s foremost two-way catcher. He’s still owed roughly $7 million of the $23 million he’s making, per Berardino.
That’s a lot of money for a guy who doesn’t bring much to the table anymore.
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Mauer has become a decent first baseman in the years since he moved out from behind the plate in 2014. But he’s not the same hitter who posted a .323 average and .873 OPS between 2004 and 2013. In fact, the .705 OPS he has this year is on track to be the worst of his career.
Mauer isn’t fundamentally broken as a hitter. He still draws plenty of walks (10.5 BB%), and he’s still bucking baseball’s ever-worsening strikeout trend (14.0 K%). He’s also racking up hard contact at a rate that he hasn’t since 2010.
Mauer is thus proving he’s still good for batting average (.269) and on-base percentage (.349). The problem, however, is these things aren’t good for much without power.
Indeed, the veteran’s power is virtually nonexistent:
He’s tallied just 21 extra-base hits all season, and just three of those have been home runs. That puts him on track to repeat his 2014 feat of qualifying for the batting title yet finishing with fewer than five homers. Before him, the last primary first baseman to do that was Jose Offerman in 1996.
Of course, Mauer has rarely been a big-time power hitter. He peaked with 28 home runs in 2009, and he’s never come close to repeating that. And at this point, he sure looks like an old dog who’s uninterested in learning a new trick.
While many hitters have found extra power by giving in to the launch angle craze, Mauer has barely changed his own:
- 2015: 3.8 degrees
- 2016: 3.8 degrees
- 2017: 5.6 degrees
- 2018: 4.5 degrees
By doing so, he’s kept the bulk of his batted balls on the ground. That’s not a recommended way to hit for power.
Jim Mone/Associated Press
As for the fly balls and line drives Mauer does hit, he still prefers to send them to the opposite field. That’s the toughest direction in which a hitter can try to clear the fence, and Mauer isn’t getting better at doing so with age. The one opposite-field homer he has this year accounts for just 2.5 percent of the fly balls he’s hit to left field.
To boot, outfield shifts appear to be taking away other extra-base hits. According to Baseball Savant, he’s slugging just .667 on fly balls and line drives against “strategic” outfield alignments. That’s his lowest mark in the four-year Statcast era.
“Right now, it’s probably tougher to be a hitter than any time at any point in my career,” Mauer conceded to Chris Hine of the Star Tribune.
If a team is going to take a chance on a hitter like this, it won’t be as a $7 million experiment. The Rockies, Mariners, Yankees or whoever would have to convince the Twins to eat some money.
But that might not get it done. Even if Mauer is willing to waive his no-trade clause, the Twins may not agree to eat any of his remaining salary unless they get a real prospect or two back. A Mauer experiment isn’t necessarily worth that price.
Ultimately, Mauer is probably stuck where he is, and maybe that suits him just fine.