The end of a career comes for every athlete at some point, and Joe Mauer is reportedly giving great consideration to whether that time is coming in a few weeks for him.
Per La Velle E. Neal’s reporting, Mauer is mulling retirement. The most telling quote from the piece, at least to me, was when Neal reminded Mauer that six months ago it sounded like he was pretty sure about playing in 2019 and beyond.
“Yeah, a lot can change in six months. Personally, professionally, physically,” Mauer said.
Personally, the Mauers have a third child due in a couple months. Professionally, Mauer has reverted to 2014-16 form after a stronger (though not vintage) 2017 season. Physically, he’s dealt with another concussion this season that caused him to miss time. He had a .775 OPS at the time he dove for a ball in Anaheim on May 11, a play that led to a cervical strain, concussion and month-long stint on the DL. Since then, Mauer has a .695 OPS.
If this does end up being it for Mauer, whose eight-year, $184 million contract expires after this season, his career arc will end up looking quite a bit like that of several other all-time Twins greats. Let’s take a look at five others, how their careers finished and how they might offer examples for what Mauer should or shouldn’t do:
*Harmon Killebrew: Killer had his last great season at age 35 (28 homers, AL-best 119 RBI), was productive again at age 36 and then hit a sharp decline at age 37. He hung on until age 39, playing his final year with the Kansas City Royals in 1975. Mauer hardly seems like the type who would want to play for another team. And while he’s not at the top of his game right now he also might not want to decline further, as Killebrew did (hitting .199 his final year).
*Tony Oliva: His eight years between 1964-71 are Hall of Fame-worthy, but knee problems — exacerbated in 1971 — put Tony O. on a declining path starting at age 33 in 1972. He held on until age 37, which might have been a year or two too long considering he hit just .211 with a.495 OPS that last year. Mauer’s career arc is very similar, even if their career-defining injuries were different.
*Kirby Puckett: One of the biggest and saddest what-ifs in Twins history is the story of Puckett, who absolutely mashed at age 35 in 1995 and then never played again because of the loss of vision in one eye. If Mauer was still producing like Puckett was at his age 35 season (Kirby hit .314 with an .894 OPS), I imagine he would still be itching to play.
*Kent Hrbek: Nagging injuries limited Hrbek to an average of 105 games his final three seasons, and while his production didn’t decline sharply he was on the downswing (.789 OPS his final three years, compared to .862 the previous 10) when he retired at age 34 in 1994 in the midst of MLB’s labor dispute. Hrbek has parallels to Mauer in being a native Minnesotan who played his entire career with the Twins.
*Justin Morneau: Unfortunately this might be the most apt comparison of all. Morneau was having an MVP-caliber season in 2010 — hitting .345 with a 1.055 OPS — when a concussion sliding into second base altered his trajectory. He was 29 at the time of the injury, and while he later rebounded to win a batting title at age 33 with Colorado — much like Mauer’s rebound season last year — Morneau eventually retired at age 35.
Mauer was 30 and still highly productive when a foul tip on Aug. 19, 2013 produced the concussion that changed his career forever. Will he retire at age 35 like his friend and former teammate?