It’s no secret that Joe Mauer has struggled mightily in 2011. After hitting just .235/.289/.265 through his first nine games, Mauer went on the DL with mysterious leg and knee problems, which lasted until mid-June. He’s improved in the month that he’s been back, .270/.356/.315, but has been nowhere near himself. His GB/FB ratio is through the room at 1.78, and his extra-base hit percentage is down to 3.6% (his career numbers, respectively are 1.03 and 8.2%). Joe has, indeed, been a singles hitter in the first year of his eight-year contract extension.
Twins fans are (somewhat understandably) frustrated by their native son’s performance, and have begun booing Joe on occasion. Their frustration was given stupid, stupid voice through the following article, which TCM found via Baseball Think Factory, that suggests that Drew Butera has actually been more valuable to the Twins in 2011:
“No matter how you slice it, though, Mauer has hit one home run at Target Field as a $23 million a year player, and Drew Butera, one of the worst hitters in the major leagues, just tied him for home runs hit in the home park.
But still, people want to believe Joe is “stealing money” from the Twins anyway because he’s not hitting homeruns. Or because he got hurt and missed a month. Or because the Twins have stunk, relative to the fans’ high expectations. Joe Mauer is supposed to be leading this team to 8 straight division titles, and instead he’s led them to fourth place in the AL Central.
No one ever argues that the Twins were stealing money from Joe in 2005, when he hit .294/.372/.411 in his first full season and earned $325,000. No one wrung their hands together in 2006, when he won his first batting title and was the most valuable player in the American League (even though he didn’t win the award), and he only earned $400,000. When he was worth 14.1 fWAR from 2008-2009, a performance that would have been worth roughly $63.5 million on the open market, no one complained that Joe only got paid a little under $17 million. From 2004-2010, Fangraphs calculates Joe Mauer’s performance would have netted him around $138.3 million on the free agent market. Instead, he was paid a shade over $34 million. Obviously, Joe has been well compensated for his work, and should be grateful he plays a game that affords him such luxurious compensation. But, if Joe is stealing $23 million from the Twins this year, the Twins will still owe him another $81 million that they didn’t have to spend because of baseball’s collectively bargained indentured servitude for young players.
Sadly, it looks like Joe Mauer is going to have to move off of catcher in the relatively near future. His bat, assuming he fully recovers from his injuries and rediscovers his line drive power, will play anywhere, and Mauer will provide good value, even if that value is not quite commensurate with his $23 million per year salary. But it’s ok, because the Twins have a lot of debt to work off to him before we should start to get bent out of shape over how much he’s “stealing.”*
*By the way, for what it’s worth, Drew Butera, one of the worst hitters in MLB history and who Garry suggests has been more valuable than Mauer in 2011, has been worth -0.2 fWAR, meaning he has been worth $-1.1 million. No word on whether Butera has set up a plan to pay back the Twins what he owes them, but they’ll probably work something out. There's also no word on when Garry plans to repay the Argus Leader for turning in a column that was below replacement level.