True story: I was thinking about maybe writing one of my old "happy birthday" posts for today, and the easiest way to get to Baseball Reference's birthdays list is to go to the home page, type in the first player I think of, and then click on his birthdate. Well, today, the first player I thought of was Mauer (which you might think just happens all the time with me, but really, it was almost as likely to be Cory Snyder or Rusty Greer or Joaquin Andujar), and as is bound to happen one out of every 365.25 times I do this, it happens to be his birthday today! Joe was born on April 19, 1983, and so turns 28 today.
I don't have all that much to say about Mauer, because I don't really like to tell people what they already know. But I think it's a good time to remind people exactly how good he's been, and not for just that one unbelievable year. If Mauer had retired the other day, rather than being placed on the DL with a strange and confusing mix of maladies, he'd have a career that didn't look anything like anyone else's; a lovely .326/.406/.479 line, but in just six full seasons. Barely 1000 hits, fewer than 100 home runs, fewer than 500 RBI.
Yet, he's already one of the greatest catchers who has ever played. By wWAR, which weights wins above replacement in a way that places special emphasis on truly great seasons (I wrote about it here), Mauer would already qualify for the Hall of Fame -- or the Hall of wWAR, if you will. He's been that great, and great catchers are just that rare.
That's the thing a lot of people are missing. As much as Mauer has been injured, as much as it seems like he should be hitting more homers, as much as he's got a ton of work to do to live up to that huge contract, it's so rare for a catcher to perform the way Mauer has performed that he's already an elite all-time player. Of the thirteen greatest seasons catchers have ever had, by WAR, Mauer has had three of them; only Johnny Bench even has two (list here). Those would, of course, be the three seasons -- 2006, 2008 and 2009 -- in each of which I believe Mauer should have been named A.L. MVP. His "off" year of 2010 ranks 56th all-time at his position.
So. He's just 28, and he should have a whole bunch of great, healthy years ahead of him. But whatever he does in the future (and whatever position he plays while he's doing it), it's worth taking note of exactly how much he's done already and how rare all that is. You just don't see catchers like this guy.