Monday, November 23, 2009

All-Time Twins Team: Catcher

2010 marks the 50th season for the Minnesota Twins. The team will commemorate the occasion in patch form on their jerseys, but the anniversary will likely be lost somewhat in the hoopla surrounding the team's first season at Target Field.

Well, not here! In recognition of 50 years of great and not-so-great baseball in Minnesota, we'll go around the diamond over the next few weeks and select an all-time Minnesota Twins' team. We'll have one player at each position, select a four-man starting pitching rotation, select a closer, as well as a manager and a general manager. For selection to this team, an analysis of a player's tenure in Minnesota will be considered, which suggests why David Ortiz is not on this team. As always, your comments about my selections, errors, and omissions are appreciated.

We'll start today with probably the easiest selection on the diamond: Catcher.

The Minnesota Twins all-time team must include Joe Mauer as catcher. It seems strange to have a 26-year-old guy on any all-time team, but Mauer is the greatest catcher to ever play for the Twins after only six years in the majors.

Think of what has been accomplished in six seasons:
  • Three batting titles (2006, 2008, 2009)
  • Three All-Star Game selections (2006, 2008, 2009)
  • Three Silver Sluggers (2006, 2008, 2009)
  • Two gold glove awards (2008, 2009)
  • A likely MVP (updated:near-unanimous MVP selection; second catcher in 33 years) selection for his 2009 performance
  • Career .327/.408/.493 batting mark

It seems like Mauer has only scratched the surface for his career, and superlatives abound when describing his 2009 performance. Despite missing all of spring training and the entire first month of the season with an injury, Mauer hit a home run on his first swing of the season on May 1 and ended up hitting an amazing .414/.500/.838 for the month with 11 HR and 32 RBI in 28 games. After flirting with the .400 mark for the rest of the first half, Mauer ran away with the AL batting title and finished the season with an AL-leading .365/.444/.587 line. He added power to his game this season, shattering his previous career-high HR mark by hitting 28 (his career-high had been 13) and added 96 RBI. He is simply the best all-around offensive catcher in the Majors today and is probably the best pure hitter in baseball.

The 2009 season alone may be enough to catapult Mauer to all-time Twins' status, but his career hitting line of .327/.408/.493 over 2,994 plate appearances spanning six seasons cement his status. He has won two Gold Glove awards (which are not necessarily representative of a fielder's value, but are largely won on reputation), and has done a great job handling a young pitching staff over the past two seasons. He is a free agent after the 2010 season and much chatter dominates Twins Territory about signing him to an extension this winter to keep him away from the large market teams which are looking to upgrade their catching situations. Stay tuned!

The Fan Graphs site estimates that Mauer has been 282.5 runs above replacement-level for his career, which undoubtedly has won a lot of games for the Twins since 2004. Mauer's tenure with Minnesota has been accompanied by a period of success, with AL Central Division titles in 2004, 2006, and 2009, as well as a tie in 2008. Those banners likely do not fly over Twins Territory without Mauer behind the plate and in the line-up.

Also considered: Earl Battey; Brian Harper; A.J. Pierzynski

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