FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins’ addition of slugger Logan Morrison is potentially a boost to an already effective offense and his personality already has been a hit in the clubhouse.
But there is one player, in particular, who could benefit from Morrison’s arrival: Joe Mauer.
Morrison, a first baseman, will be the primary designated hitter in manager Paul Molitor’s lineup. But Molitor is thinking about how much he can toggle Morrison and Mauer between the positions. Mauer could spend more time at DH as part of the arrangement. And, Molitor acknowledged, more time at DH could mean fewer days off for No. 7.
“I don’t have numbers in mind, specifically,” Molitor said. “You think about Joe having a healthy season and how many games does that look like and how you are going to divide them from defense to just DH days.
“[Morrison] being a guy who has played a lot of first, it will be an easy swap now and then just to keep Morrison in the game and keep Joe fresh, its’s a nice combination, potentially.”
Keeping Mauer, 34, fresh has been a priority for the Twins in recent seasons, and Molitor appeared to hit the rest button at the right times last year. The three-time AL batting champion played in 141 games, appearing 13 times as the designated hitter. Mauer was the DH 34 times in 2016 and 20 in 2015.
Molitor prefers to monitor his fellow Cretin-Derham Hall alum, picking and choosing the times when Mauer appears ready for a break.
“I think it went well last year,” Mauer said. “I don’t think we went into the season with a number in mind. That what was good about it. I told Mollie, ‘If you think I need a day, then give me a day.’ ”
Keeping Mauer’s quality at-bats and on-base skills in the lineup more often benefits a Twins team that was fourth in the AL with 815 runs scored last season — and aspires to make a return trip to the postseason.
Mauer batted .305 in 2017 — his highest average since 2013 — with a .384 on-base percentage. Only Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Jose Altuve and Eric Hosmer had a higher OBP in the AL.
Molitor also has to consider the defensive ramifications of using Morrison at first base. The Twins campaigned for Mauer to win a Gold Glove last year after his best defensive season since moving to the infield from catcher before the 2014 season. He was sixth in baseball in defensive runs saved at his position and was adept at scooping throws in the dirt from his infielders.
Morrison was ninth in defensive runs saved. But Mauer outkicks him in Ultimate Zone Rating, a statistic used to determine a player’s defensive effectiveness. According to FanGraphs, Mauer led baseball with a UZR rating of 7.1, while Morrison was ninth at 1.2.
Molitor watched intently Sunday as Morrison played first base against Pittsburgh, his first time doing so since joining the Twins.
“I was watching how he held runners and his depth and the things that he did,” Molitor said. “To see where we need to communicate some of our thoughts about the position.”
The other component to the arrangement is making sure Morrison, who has never been a DH more than 17 games in a season, doesn’t have a rough adjustment. The joke used to be that being a DH is like pinch hitting four times a game, but players in the role try to avoid thinking that way.
“If I’m DH-ing that day, I’ll help the team get some hits,” said Morrison, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million contract Feb. 28. “If I’m playing first, I’m going to get some hits, hit some homers and save some runs.
“It is important to me to stay involved as a first baseman as it is important to the team. So, I don’t really care, but if they need me at first base, I think I’m more than willing and capable to play first base and not see any drop off from Joe.”
It will be a daily decision that is worth the brain power. Third baseman Miguel Sano is expected to DH at times as well.
Keep in mind that Twins designated hitters had a .711 on-base-plus-slugging percentage last year. Only Twins catchers had a worse percentage among the position players.
Morrison’s .868 OPS with Tampa Bay last season would have led the Twins.
So, yes, you find a way to get the most out of a Mauer-Morrison mix.
“It is going to be feel, mostly,” Molitor said. “Where we’re at with Joe and lefthanded pitching and when the schedule gets bunched up. I’m going to try to keep him sharp out there the best I can, and I’m sure it will help Joe in the long run.”