I had a similar reaction to an opinion piece I read from someone named Blair Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds does not agree with the Twins' handling of All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, which is certainly his right. But it is also my prerogative to rebut his assertions.
I was shopping for a new mattress last week. The clerk asked me what kind of firmness I like in a bed. I told him I like my bed to be like Joe Mauer; soft.
To me, one being "soft" is different from one being injury prone. I interpret someone as being soft when they refuse to play with minor injuries. I don't recall Mauer himself ever showing a reluctance to play due to ailments which haven't landed him on the disabled list.
Don't get me wrong, Mauer is a very gifted athlete who has won three batting titles and a MVP Award because he is a natural born hitter with great baseball instincts.
However, until Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire decides to stop treating Mauer with the care of an infant, the Twins will remain an also-ran in the American League. When Mauer is in the lineup, the Twins are contenders. Without him they don't cut the mustard. His latest trip to the disabled list on April 14 is another example of how Mauer isn't as tough as his fellow Major League catchers.
Since 2005, Mauer has the most plate appearances of any catcher in the major leagues. The same can also be said for Mauer since the 2008 season. Not sure how Mr. Reynolds defines "toughness" here but Mauer has answered the call the most amongst major league catchers for the vast majority of his career.
From 2005 thru 2010, Mauer has averaged 134 games played out of 162. Since an MLB regular season is about 26 weeks long, that means Mauer sits about one game per week. Like it or not, the Twins organization views this as the best course of action in maintaining the health of the cornerstone of the franchise. In fact, the last time Mauer was on the DL prior to this was 2009, when he missed the first 22 games of that season. He would go to play in 138 of the Twins' remaining 141 contests and win the American League MVP award. Again, if Mauer were "soft", I highly doubt he would be able to recover from a back surgery like he had prior to '09 and have the career year that he did.
Mauer is often talked about in the same breath as Hall of Famer Johnny Bench. According to League statistics; Bench never played fewer than 142 games during his 20s. Mauer is averaging 133 games during that span. In fact the most games Mauer has ever played in a season is 146.
So because Mauer averages one or two less games per month than what Bench played over the same period of his career, that means Mauer's status as a premier catcher is invalid? And let me save you the suspense: There aren't many catchers who are in prime of their career right now who can legitimately be compared to Bench.
You can argue that Bench played in a different era, but that argument doesn't hold much water. Take Jorge Posada, a closer contemporary to Mauer than Bench. Posada averaged 139 games a season during his prime and he was a full-time catcher up until just a few seasons ago.
Mauer also has a career batting average of .326, compared to Posada's .275. I guess I'm OK with Mauer playing one less game per month than Posada if it means adding 51 points to his batting average.
Why does Gardenhire want to preserve a guy, when the time is now to win?
Because he'd rather have a healthy Mauer in September and October. Look at Justin Morneau over the past four seasons. He's either worn down by the time Fall rolls around or isn't available to play at all, like in the past two postseasons. While the concussion Morneau suffered in July 2010 was a freak thing, the fact he averaged 159 games played from 2006 thru 2008 finally caught up with him in 2009, when it was learned he had stress fractures in his lower back. Ever since then, the Twins organization is committed to giving all its starters regular rest --- especially Mauer.
No matter who initiates it, sitting Mauer is doing nothing but hurting the Twins.
But playing him when he can barely put any weight on his left leg, thus weakening his hitting, would help the Twins? Like most MLB teams, the Twins carry only two catchers on the roster. If one is on the shelf for even four days, it puts the club in a vulnerable position when there's only one healthy catcher. What if that guy (in this case, Drew Butera) were to get dinged up? In this case, a 15-day stint on the DL is necessary for Mauer in order for the Twins to add another backstop to the roster.
I don't argue for one second that a player making $23 million per season should be held to a higher standard. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't be allowed to recover from a knee ailment that has quite obviously hampered his entire game.