MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins started their annual winter gala with everything a baseball fan with cabin fever could want on a cold night: autographs from the players, batting cages and meat smoking on the grill.
Everything except that contract extension for Joe Mauer.
TwinsFest began on Friday without an announcement of the Mauer megadeal Minnesotans have been hoping for, that sure-to-be-expensive guarantee of keeping the American League MVP in his hometown for the foreseeable future.
Mauer and the Twins have been steadfastly quiet about any negotiations, but manager Ron Gardenhire expressed optimism a deal will get done this spring.
"I'm just letting it happen. I don't sit and fret about it," Gardenhire said earlier in the day at Target Field, where the Twins are moving this year. "I think the right thing is going to happen. I think we all know. I think we all know the ramifications if something were not to happen and it would go the other way. That wouldn't be a good thing for anybody. I don't see who, other than maybe some clubs out east."
Mauer is making $12.5 million this season, the last year of his current contract. He'll be eligible for free agency in the fall if no new deal is in place, a scenario that wouldn't bode well for the Twins given the interest the soon-to-be-27-year-old would attract on the open market. But Gardenhire, though removed from the process, wasn't worried.
"I'll be happy when he does sign. He can buy me a beer. Probably two. Maybe three," he said, chuckling.
With Target Field blanketed in snow and the temperature near zero, TwinsFest was held at the usual Metrodome spot. Mauer was, of course, the center of attention wherever he wandered.
About the contract?
"I feel like a broken record," he said. "People, they want to know what's going on and try to find out things when they can, but I keep saying — I'm sounding like a broken record right now — it'll all happen when it needs to happen and you've just got to try to let it all happen. That's what we're doing."
As Mauer took questions from a small group of reporters in a basement hallway, teammate and close friend Justin Morneau walked by and shouted, "14-year extension, 20 a year!"
Well, the deal won't be that long, but it will be that pricey.
"I just don't want it to be a distraction to what we're trying to do as a team for 2010," Mauer said. "I just want to prepare for that season and hopefully not be the focus of everything, because we've got a great lineup coming in."
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