Sunday, March 21, 2010

It is so, Joe!

The business of contract negotiations is a necessary evil in professional sports. But now that the Minnesota Twins have extended the contract of their high profile catcher, we as fans can now focus on the actual game of baseball.

Joe Mauer is staying home.

The AL MVP agreed to an eight-year, $184 million contract extension with Minnesota on Sunday that includes a full no-trade clause, a massive deal that shows the Twins are no longer spending like a small-market club.

The deal covers the 2011-2018 seasons and is the fourth largest—both in total value and average salary—in major league history. Starting next season, the All-Star catcher will make $23 million a year.

Who's to say if Mauer ever really convinced himself that leaving the Twins after the 2010 season was a possibility. But at the same time, Mauer was crystal clear that he wanted to play for a winning team, which is a euphemism for "no hometown discount will be given." To the credit of the Twins organization, they made several key off-season moves which served as overtures to Mauer that the club was serious about building upon on their division championship team from last season.

With the regular season slated to start in two weeks, Mauer's agent Ron Shapiro was willing to take as much time as possible before sealing a deal for his client. Shapiro likely played on the anxiety of the Twins front office and their knowledge that losing arguably the most popular player in franchise history (after fleecing the public for a new stadium no less) would be the ultimate P.R. disaster.

From my standpoint, I wouldn't have blamed the Twins organization if they had decided to draw a line in the sand in terms of maximum annual salary. While Mauer had won three batting titles in his first six years in the majors, arguably he wasn't even the most valuable Twin until last season (In my opinion, Justin Morneau had been the Twins' most potent offensive player from 2006-08). If Mauer's camp had demanded a salary on par with the highest in MLB (Alex Rodriguez at about $28 million annually), then you're talking about one player absorbing nearly 30% of the team's payroll. Combine that with the fact that Mauer is continuing to play the most physically demanding position on the field, there will be a pretty good chance he will endure some injury issues over the next nine seasons. From that standpoint, the Twins are already making a calculated risk with such a long-term deal.

Whatever the case, Mauer will be in a Twins uniform well past his 35th birthday. With that, the sole focus of Mauer, his teammates, the Twins front office and fans can be on the inaugural season at Target Field.



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