Joe Mauer could retire this fall, could walk away at a logical juncture of his career, but that doesn’t seem to be where the story is currently heading.
Here’s what we know about his pending decision:
Mauer said this spring that he wants to play as long as he can.
Asked Sunday if he intends to play another season, Mauer said: “Well, to be honest, nothing’s really changed since spring training. I’m just trying to enjoy this year. I think I’ve expressed that I like being here.”
Twins manager Paul Molitor wants Mauer back. In a franchise reliant on unpredictable young talent, Molitor values Mauer’s glove, patient hitting approach and professionalism.
Unless Jorge Polanco, Eduardo Escobar, Miguel Sano and Logan Morrison all look like everyday Twins by the end of the season, there will be a position open for Mauer.
Perhaps just as important, the only organization Mauer has known doesn’t view his eight-year, $184 million contract the way much of the public does, as an albatross.
Team President Dave St. Peter on Sunday said he has never regretted the Twins signing Mauer to a franchise-record deal, even though Mauer’s ailments have kept him from hitting the way he did in the 2000s.
St Peter was looking at statues of Harmon Killebrew and Tom Kelly outside Target Field when someone related a story that former Twins General Manager Andy MacPhail used to tell.
MacPhail was debating whether to make Kirby Puckett, briefly, the highest-paid player in baseball when he went to an event and saw a toddler approach the Twins’ logo and say, “Kirby Puckett!” He signed Puckett to the deal.
“I think the same would have been said when Joe Mauer was a free agent after the ’09 season,” St. Peter said. “People can analyze day and night about that contract but I’d say this: The Twins have gotten their money’s worth and then some on that deal, because of what Joe has meant to our franchise over the course of his tenure with our club.
“I was at an event he and [wife] Maddie did the other day for Gillette Children’s Hospital, and they’ve really taken some of their efforts in the community to a whole new level.
“Joe Mauer, to me, is top five all-time in terms of community engagement and just being an absolute tremendous ambassador as a Twins player. Never for a second have I seen him waver in terms of the way he treats people and the way he goes about his business away from the field.”
Mauer’s desire to play probably will be based on his health. He has recovered from concussion-like symptoms to return to the everyday lineup, but is batting just .222 with a .556 OPS since his return. Before his injury, his on-base percentage was .404, ranking among the league leaders. His on-base percentage since is an uncharacteristically low .300.
“I’m doing all right,” he said. “Getting back into it. Trying to get my baseball legs back underneath me a little. It’s going pretty well.”
As the Twins stumble along, the right side of their infield continues to be a nexus of awkwardness.
Second baseman Brian Dozier, the team’s best player and leader over the past five years, is headed toward free agency (although the Twins signing him to a qualifying offer to keep him around at least one more season would be logical). And Mauer, the only Minnesota native to win an MVP award with the Twins, could retire in three months and one week.
Dozier spoke to me at length in spring training about his belief that the Twins didn’t want to sign him. Sunday, he politely declined to talk about his future.
The most interesting dynamic in these decisions is that Twins ownership and St. Peter tend to value clubhouse leaders and community ambassadors, and the new front office relies on analytics when determining player salaries.
The key to keeping Mauer around might be his willingness to take a massive pay cut.
As someone who has built a life in Minnesota, who wants to raise his kids here, the best thing Mauer could do for his image is to sign an affordable contract, to give the hometown team a break, and finish his career as a bargain instead of a financial burden.