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Where is Joe Mauer's Extension?

By Travis Hines

The Twins have glaring weaknesses in the middle infield, bullpen, and, now, in the starting rotation. And yet they remain only three games behind the Tigers heading into Sunday's contest with the Angels. The Twins ostensibly addressed the middle infield issue by acquiring Orlando Cabrera prior to this week's trade deadline. All this should give Twins fans plenty of reasons for optimism, but all I seem to be able think about is the winter of 2010 and Joe Mauer's impending free agency.

Maybe it's just a the inferiority complex of being a Midwestern sports fan, but I am terrified of losing Mauer to a big-market club with deep pockets. It goes without saying that Mauer is having an unbelievable season up to this point. His numbers are otherworldly. Playing the most demanding position in baseball, Mauer's 1.015 OPS ranks third in baseball. The next highest catcher? Brian McCann (.893) at 31.

What do the advanced metrics say about Mauer's season? His value over replacement player (VORP) stands at 48, good for fourth in the majors. McCann is again the next highest catcher on the board, ranking 41st with 29.7 runs above replacement. His wins above replacement player (WARP) is nine, which is fourth among position players and sixth overall. Yadier Molina is the next backstop on the list, but he's slotted in the 71st position. Wow.

My favorite advanced statistic, and maybe one of the easiest to understand, is OPS+. I think it is the strongest stat to evaluate players across positions and parks. To me, it's the best tool to compare players. And Mauer tops both leagues in the category with an OPS+ of 173 (Justin Morneau is second, with 161). Simply put, Joe Mauer has been the best player in baseball this year.

So how much is Mauer worth? His numbers this season suggest he's one of the premier talents in the league. At 26, he's still theoretically outside of his prime years. Injuries will always be in the discussion with Mauer, which is warranted on some level, but often over stressed. If injuries force him out from behind the plate, his value takes a significant hit. So is he worth a near-$200 million contract? Would he want a 10-year deal, what Alex Rodriguez received from the Yankees? And is it wise to give him such a long contract considering the threat of him switching to a less valuable position? But could the Twins afford to lose him with legions of sideburn toting fans waiting to christen Target Field?

While Victor Martinez heading to Boston certainly works in the Twins favor, making one less suitor for Mauer's services, the hometown team is already behind the curve. We all know what happened the winter prior to Johan Santana's contract year. Are we headed down the same path this winter? All of this is why I'm having trouble focusing on the race to the Central crown.


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