Joe Mauer is the face of the Minnesota Twins. That face is known for its homegrown handsomeness, sideburns, and for that vintage helmet he wears underneath his catcher’s mask. Signed for the long term in a deal that Minnesotans now gripe about, the Twins built their franchise and their new park around their franchise catcher.
Except now he isn’t the catcher. Not anymore. The team announced earlier this off-season that Mauer would be moved to first base, and with the signing of veteran backstop Kurt Suzuki made official yesterday, the days of Mauer as catcher are officially over. Suzuki will pair with prospect Josmil Pinto to handle those duties moving forward.
Mauer is a ridiculously productive hitter. He is a regular in the batting title race. He batted .324/.404/.476 in 2013. His wRC+ of 144 in 2013 placed him among the league’s elite (top 15 in all of baseball) and he put up a wRC+ of 138 the year before. Some people struggle to get past the fact that he doesn’t hit more home runs (only 11 in 2013 and no more than that since 2009), and that is certainly a complicating factor when considering how he projects at first base.
Still, the Twins are taking one of the best hitters in baseball, a tall, 30-year-old with a troubling injury history, and gambling on his offense over a full season being good enough to be content writing him in at first base each day.
If you allow yourself to think outside of traditional power numbers, it’s not hard to buy into that plan. It certainly is a better risk than continuing to stick the face of your franchise behind the plate and hoping he will somehow stop getting hurt.
Let the Pinto/Suzuki era begin.